Thursday, May 21, 2020

52 Years Later, A Forever Young Little Boy Rests In a Tranquil, Peaceful Spot Of an Old Alexandria Cemetery: The Deeply Poignant Grave Marker of Chester J. Rivers, June 15, 1960 - March 2, 1968, Plus Few Tangentially Related Historical Matters

** Entry updated 11:57 p.m. May 21, 2020 and again 8:47 p.m. May 27, 2020 with additional content / pictures: See below (first update) and bottom of entry (second update).**

The marble grave marker of Chester J. Rivers, Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex, Alexandria, Va., 3:05 p.m.,
May 16, 2020

So you know upfront, I literally cannot look at this picture, as I could not look at his grave marker on Sunday, without tearing up and weeping.


This entry is dedicated on a topic from my Sunday walk that I wanted to put in a standalone entry. Recall that on Sunday, I took the Metro from Foggy Bottom down to King Street on Sunday and walked to Jones Point and thence north along the Potomac through Old Town Alexandria and north on the Mount Vernon bike trail to National Airport, thence detouring on a spur trail over to Crystal City and the Crystal City Metro -- and riding back into D.C.

Google "satellite view" aerial view of the "Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex," Alexandria, Va.


As part of this walk, I went through one of the old cemeteries that comprise what is collectively known as the Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex (see Google aerial image view directly above). I think -- but I'm not entirely sure -- that I was traversing what is known as the Home of Peace Cemetery, identified as the earliest Jewish cemetery in Alexandria.

It was there that I came across the grave of this little boy, Chester J. Rivers, who died just over 52 years ago. Three months shy of his 8th birthday, he was only 7. What's more, he will forever be that little boy of 7 years old.

Chester J. Rivers' grave marker is triply poignant:

First, it reveals how young he was when he died.

Secondly, there is the little lamb keeping silent vigil atop his gravestone.

Thirdly, there's the message engraved on it:


As I read it, the second line is not the parents stating their love for their lost child. Rather, it is nothing less than a mother and/or father's message to God -- heartbreaking, imploring, emphatic -- for Him to love and care in the next life for the son they lost through whatever turn of merciless, amoral fate.

And if there is any God of the sort humans typically imagine with any existence (of whatever sort and character) beyond this particular reality, then, I'm certain, it's a message that God heeds.

Above: This is actually a second picture that I took, not a duplicate of the first.


There were no other grave markers immediately around it -- no Rivers family plot, at least that I could see. And as you can see in the twin images, the marble headstone has some serious lichen growing on it, both the gravestone itself and the angelic-looking little lamb atop it.

UPDATED 11:57 p.m. May 21, 2020

I took off this Thursday afternoon and trekked back down to Alexandria, taking the Metro to King Street and thence walking to the gravesite in question. I took several additional pictures that I am posting in this entry.

As part of this update, I have changed the location of Chester J. Rivers' gravesite to the more general "Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex" because I am unsure in which of the 13 "graveyards" that make up the complex it is located.

To be clear, there is a nearby sign indicating it is the Douglass Memorial Cemetery -- a burial place for African Americans that was used between about 1895 and 1975. The Home of Peace Cemetery appears to be located a short distance away off S. Payne Street. I'm just keeping it generic as the "Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex" location.

After visiting the gravesite, spending about 20 minutes seated next to what is such a small gravestone (thus increasing the poignancy even more), I continued with my walk over to Old Town and thence up to National Airport where I rode the Metro back to Foggy Bottom.

End of Update


Since there is an organization and a website for literally everything, perhaps not surprisingly, I came across a website of The British Lichen Society (!) discussing churchyard lichens that goes into some detail -- and seems to view lichen on marble headstones as a good thing. Not sure how I feel about that.

Alamy stock photo of two marble headstones with spreading lichen

On the other hand, I tried to find via basic Google searching some online sources of information about Chester J. Rivers, specifically, something about his death in 1968, and not surprisingly, there was nothing. I suppose I would have to go into an Alexandria library and look up old newspaper articles on microfiche.

I wish I knew more about little Chester that I could post, but I do not. Instead, having only the image of his gravestone and its painful poignance, this is an appropriate time to stop. I will admit that the sorry I feel might be due to my own relationship to a long-dead young man. Suffice it to say, I posted this entry to let it be known on this my own tiny wisp of the problematic internet in 2020 that a young boy named Chester J. Rivers lived for a brief period in the 1960s and that even now, just over half century since his death, his grave marker remains sorrowfully deeply poignant.

"Child Funeral" by Konstantin Makovsky, 1872; source here.


But, before I wrap up this entry, let me just post a few tangentially-related historical matters about the whole cemetery complex (using the term "complex" for a cemetery seems kind of odd to me, but whatever).

Kinderbegräbnis by Albert Anker, 1863


According to this website, the Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex of 13 cemeteries owes his origins to the following:

In 1804 the Alexandria Common Council declared that no new cemeteries could open within the city limits. Nor could any new burial plots could be sold. As a result, a complex of thirteen cemeteries were established just outside of the city’s boundaries. The complex of cemeteries is a mixture of Christian and Hebrew burials. The Alexandria National Cemetery opened there in 1862. Union soldiers who died in nearby hospitals were buried there. Today this military cemetery has over 4,500 graves. At the cemetery complex, visitors will see how cemeteries and grave markers have changed over 200 years.

Map of Alexandria (now Arlington) County, Virginia, 1878 -- rotated so that "top" is northwest.

Alexandria City is at the bottom in the dark green shaded area. The "point" at the very bottom is Jones Point. Since that time, there must have been some reworking (landfill) along the immediate riverfront just north of it to where was the original and now is the current Wilson Bridge .


The fact that the cemetery complex was outside the City of Alexandria -- and instead was in what was Alexandria, now Arlington, County -- indicates that Alexandria's boundaries have changed, expanding to the west and now includes the cemeteries.

Map of the southern portion of Alexandria circa 1945; full map is available here

That link indicates that the full Alexandria / Arlington County map is from 1942 but there are elements on it -- including the existence of the Pentagon -- indicating it was a few years later. The cemetery complex is visible on the upper right.


What I am still unsure of is whether Jones Point, location of the South Cornerstone of the District of Columbia, has always been in the City of Alexandria or if, instead, it was once part of Alexandria County to include any of the ~50 years it was part of the Federal Territory before the 1846 retrocession. The Alexandria County map of 1878 indicates it was clearly in the City of Alexandria.

Reposted: South Cornerstone of the District of Columbia, Alexandria, Va., 3:44 p.m., May 16, 2020

Note in the Google aerial image above the "Southwest Boundary Stone 1" marker at the corner of Wilkes and South Payne Streets. That's one of the original D.C. boundary stones located, in theory, 1 mile to the northwest of the South Cornerstone.


For its part, the City of Alexandria website has the webpage "Historic Cemeteries of Alexandria" that provides a similar account but with some differences in details:

In 1804, the Alexandria Common Council decreed that graves were not to be dug "in any ground within the corporation, not opened or allotted before the twenty-seventh of March, eighteen hundred and four." While some burials occurred in the existing cemeteries after that date, the Council's action prevented the founding of any new cemeteries within the limits of Alexandria. Local churches looking for places for new cemeteries settled on a area southwest of the corner of Wilkes and Payne Streets, then called Spring Garden Farm. The Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex has grown to include 13 cemeteries, including the adjacent Black Baptist Cemetery immediately west of Hooff's Run from Alexandria National Cemetery.

Tuscan Villa Hospital, Alexandria, Va.,
circa 1863

This picture was taken by none other than legendary Civil War era photographer Mathew Brady himself (yes, one "t"). The hospital's location is today 500 / 502 Wolfe Street, Alexandria.


I will note that there are a number of new gravestones there -- especially toward the section of the cemetery fronting onto South Payne Street. Those gravestones are dark, sleek, and smooth -- and seemingly (not not) impervious to the ravages of time. Judging by the names, there are buried there quite a few Africans (as in, people recently from Africa). There is also a tendency to include large and vibrant photographic images of the dead from happy moments in their lives.

Old Town Alexandria on a nice day; photo online,
date uncertain

As for me, I have no desire to be buried with any sort of ostentatious marker, much less an holographic image of myself forever hovering in whatever cemetery tract in which I reside. In fact, given that I'll likely have no family when I pass, and leave no instructions, it's doubtful I'll even have a marked grave. On the other hand, I don't really like the idea of being cremated.

But let's not go down that dark rabbit hole right now.

Instead, I'm going to sign off and just finish watching my late night comfort TV -- you know, Cozi TV, Antenna TV, and MeTV -- of old sitcoms and have a couple vodka OJ drinks. I already made a decent dinner but for some reason, I wasn't that hungry. Of note, the Perry Mason episode tonight was one I had not previously seen: "The Case of the Skeleton's Closet."

OK, that's all for now. My next planned entry will be on Friday night. The upcoming weekend is the Memorial Day one. It will be a bit strange having a "day off" in this surreal time. Of note, related to this entry, I am planning on doing another visit to Old Town Alexandria with Aydin on Monday.


UPDATED 8:47 p.m. May 27, 2020

I just wanted to note that there is another gravestone of another even younger child within about 25 feet of Chester Rivers' grave. It too is poignantly notable for a guardian lamb atop it.

This one is for an even younger child, barely two years old, who died around that time: Dennis James McCargo, born Jan 10, 1968, died May 11, 1970 (see image left).

His gravestone is also situated alone with no other obvious family members nearby.

End of Update and of Entry


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