Friday, March 27, 2009

Columbia Gardens Has All Kinds of Spooks

Arlington Annex with Vic Socotra

This week, I'm welcoming Vic Socotra as a guest columnist. His "Arlington Annex" will appear regularly. --ST

Columbia Gardens Cemetery buttresses the eastern end of Buckingham, where the little houses of Ashton Heights end and the garden apartments begin. It’s real Arlington, family-owned and operated since 1917. In those days, the gently-rolling 38 acres were surrounded by small farms.

In the spring, before the leaves erupt on the mature trees, you can see the stately colonial lines of the main building of the George Schultz Foreign Training Center across the four lanes of concrete of Route 50.

Back in the day, Route 50 was a two lane road, and there were traffic lights at the intersections with Glebe Road and with George Mason Drive, the formal entrance to the Buckingham Neighborhood. Pedestrians could walk to work at Arlington Hall Station without a mad scramble across fifty yards of high-speed desolation.


The State Department was not always the tenant of the former Arlington Hall Junior College for Women on the south side of Route 50. It was once home to the most secret installation in the United States Government.

Unlike massive Arlington National Cemetery to the east, Columbia Gardens is a thoroughly civilian place. But there is a secret story at Columbia Gardens, if you choose to dig around a bit.

There were some wild and futuristic sample monuments near the sales office of the Thomas & Thomas Monument Company. They have a clear fashion sense in the funerary market, having operated out of the Gardens since 1964.

The artisans of the Thomas Company are graduates of the Elberton Granite Institute in Georgia, and specialize in both the latest technology and reverence for tradition. They are the only memorial company in the area that specializes in the art of “hand-cut, V-tooled lettering,” with on-site diamond etching.

Their handiwork is clearly evident in the newer memorials at Columbia Gardens. The older graves, from an agrarian Arlington, are inscribed with rugged Anglo-Saxon names. Towards the back are Germans and Hungarians, and then a wild mixture of South Asian, Muslim, Vietnamese and Ethiopian graves that register the waves of immigration.


There are some notables in the Gardens, including Francis Eugene Worley (1908-1974), born at Lone Wolf, Okla. He served as the member of Congress for the 18th district of Texas, 1941-50, He resigned abruptly for reasons lost to stone, and died in Naples, Fla.

The other Congressman present is Charles Noel Crosby (1876-1951), who represented Pennsylvania's 29th District in the years the Buckingham Neighborhood was under construction.

If you walk toward the western end, there is an odd monument, a boulder, really, rough-hewn. It has a ledge knocked into one end as a seat, and the name “Flynn” carved on the side. Small letters on the ledge say “Sit down, Let's talk.”


If you do so, you can see a number of Japanese graves, with the characters in Kanji. The dates on the stones—in western numbers—are just right for their owners to have been alive during the big Japanese language project at Arlington Hall, 1942-45, when the Imperial Japanese military codes were cracked.

There are many stones with Russian names inscribed in Cyrillic, since that was the target of the work at Arlington Hall after World War II.

They must have worked on many other projects at the Hall that required the skills of native Russian speakers.

This section of the cemetery is populated with Spooks, left behind when their living comrades moved to Fort Meade.

Vic is a retired spook who has an abiding interest in the people and places of Arlington. Originally from Michigan, he lives in the Buckingham neighborhood and works in Ballston.
Photos and story Copyright 2009 Vic Socotra

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