FORT LINCOLN CEMETERY
3401 Bladensburg Road
Brentwood, MD 20722
Bella Morte Rating: 1 Tombstone
We begin with a caveat for all those who, like us, relish cemeteries that possess the artistic and, dare we say, romantic, sensibility that is sorely lacking in most contemporary burying grounds. Unless you have spare time on your hands, do not bother with a visit to Fort Lincoln!
The land upon which the cemetery sits has some degree of importance with regard to American history. During the War of 1812, the grounds were the site of the famous “Battle of Bladensburg,” which saw British forces crush the Americans and led to the subsequent capture and razing of Washington, DC’s public buildings. The remains of an ancient oak tree (struck and destroyed by lightning in 1991) are marked by a plaque ibearing the following inscription:
THE LINCOLN OAK
This gnarled and ringed stump,
attesting to its age, is all that
remains of the majestic oak tree that
once shaded the old Spring House.
Steeped in history, it was put to rest
by the forces of nature. Its passing will
never be forgotten and its existence
will be remembered forever as a
sentinel over these historic grounds.
[NOTE: The remains of the Lincoln Oak stand above an underground spring accessed by the nearby, aptly-named Spring House which is locked and not accessible to the public].
American history aside, there is little to distinguish Fort Lincoln. Had it not been for the misguided information offered by a friend (who indicated the community mausoleum was not to be missed), we would never have stepped foot onto the property at all.
Although the cemetery bears a decidedly non-religious moniker and advertises as being non-sectarian, one cannot help but notice the grounds are overwhelmingly Christian in name and nature. Myriad gardens which carve up the otherwise almost indistinguishable space are, nearly without exception, New Testament based and go by names such as: The Garden of the Good Shepherd, The Garden of the Ascension, The Garden of the Apostles and The Garden of the Cross. The one exception that comes to mind is more evocative of laughter than seriousness. We are referring to The Last Alarm Garden. Though certainly dedicated to an honorable cause (to honour fallen firefighters and emergency responders), the name is inarguably comical…most unfortunate.
If there is one redeeming feature at Fort Lincoln, it would have to be the new cremation garden, which also bears a somewhat silly name: Tranquil Oaks. In fact, if memory and photographic examination serve us, there are no oaks--“tranquil” or otherwise--within the area! In any case, while offering some truly different cremation memorialization options (see gallery for examples) the overall effect, rather than conveying a unified theme, is to cause visitors to feel they are strolling through an outdoor showroom where monuments bear price tags instead of family names! This is unfortunate, to say the least, because the area could have been quite lovely. And, while the central fountain, with its columbarium base and three-tiered basins affords a soothing trickle of water, it can hardly ameliorate the sight of some less-than-tasteful options, e.g. a gaudy marble bench that looks like it was constructed to support the gargantuan backsides of two fast-food lovers; a giant checkerboard table flanked by two memorial benches and a peculiar arrangement of two enormous, interlocked wedding rings which stand on end atop a pedestal.
The space occupied by Tranquil Oaks is actually quite beautiful. It is the cloister which serves as a unifying feature between the old Mortuary Chapel (1929) and the Community Mausoleum (1952). The former, also called the Little Church, is used for both weddings and funerals. Its stained glass windows depict Shakespeare’s “Seven Ages of Man.” The latter, about which more is forthcoming, is connected only exteriorly. This odd arrangement can lead visitors on a bit of a wild-goose-chase for the Community Mausoleum’s front door. In order to reach it, one must actually walk or drive past the Mortuary Chapel, following the main road around a corner, past the aforementioned ancient oak tree and to the top of a small hill where a parking lot serves as a signal one has arrived.
A sadly-hyperbolic plaque just outside the double oak doors reads as follows:
FORT LINCOLN MAUSOLEUM MEMORIAL PLAQUE
The finest community mausoleum
in the world, embellished with
cathedral-type art stained glass
windows of breath-taking beauty.
A great memorial dedicated and
perpetually endowed for all
those entombed within its marble
halls. Its interior combines the
many comfortable appointments
of a home with the sacred qualities
of a church.
This mausoleum with it atmos-
phere of peaceful reverence,
is a lasting tribute to the vision,
bold determination and ability
of the man responsible for its
existence, L.O. Minear, President
of Fort Lincoln Cemetery.
Be sure to glance above the doors to see the carved tympanum which depicts Abraham burying his wife, Sarah.
Inside, the mausoleum is hardly a thing capable of convincing even the most naive among us that s/he is standing in “the finest community mausoleum in the world.” Indeed, the 5,000-crypt structure, though not unattractive with its 37 varieties of marble and stained glass depicting works by Tennyson, Longfellow and Dickens (not to mention the seemingly-requisite biblical motifs) is becoming. In its heyday, boasting well-appointed, contemporary furnishings, fine fabrics and the cheery sounds of canary song, it may have created a better impression. Nowadays, however, it seems merely pedestrian.
All this being said, this writer shall forever be grateful we ventured inside because of something that transpired on the third floor. While my fellow taphophile and I were exploring, the suggestion was made that I relax by a window which was slightly ajar. A soft breeze swept lightly over my skin and birdsong echoed off the marble crypt-fronts. It seems strange to say so, but as the cool air filtered in and the almost palpable presence of the building embraced me, I succumbed to the magic of the moment and was rewarded with an experience I do not exaggerate when describing as magical…even ecstatic! This alone will forever remain in my mind and make me grateful for having entered Fort Lincoln’s Community Mausoleum.
NOTE: On 23 August, 2011, strange as it seems, an earthquake caused a significant amount of damage to the community mausoleum. Marble crypt-fronts were loosened and fell to the floor where they shattered and a number of stained glass windows were damaged. All repairs were made long-ago and the facility is once again open to the public.