Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Cemetery Mystery

Very few people go to the Congressional Cemetery in Southeast Washington, DC. Located on the banks of the Anacostia River near the razor-wired DC Jail, the cemetery is the final resting place of many American notables, including John Philips Sousa and Matthew Brady, but the most unexpected gravesite is that of J. Edgar Hoover’s lover, Clyde Tolson.

In the 60s and 70s, J. Edgar’s long-standing relationship with Tolson was the best worst-kept secret in Washington. It was common knowledge that the fearsome chief of the Federal Bureau of Investigation detested Blacks, Commies, hippies, agitators and homosexuals. He kept voluminous files on everyone from JFK to Martin Luther King, and was not above threatening or blackmailing the top politicos of his era. That he was a rampant homosexual himself was well-known. There were rumors of J. Edgar wearing a red taffeta dress to secret evenings for cross-dressers, and he and Clyde could often be seen dining tête-à-tête at the ritzy Mayflower hotel where some said they had adjoining suites. No one, of course, spoke about this relationship openly for fear of reprisals. The FBI chief could make life miserable when crossed. Tolson and Hoover were inseparable for forty years, and when Hoover he left his entire estate of $551,000 to his companion. Tolson then moved into Hoover’s house.

J. Edgar’s grave is a few yards from Clyde Tolson’s. His final resting place is in the Hoover family plot, one of the rare sites in the cemetery to be surrounded by a fence. This, possibly, was done to avoid grave desecration. J. Edgar was a detested man, and in the minds of many remains one to this day.

Clyde Tolson’s is nestled in what is known as the cemetery’s gay corner. Next to him, sleeping for all eternity, are several gay war veterans, and William Boyce Mueller, the founder of the Forgotten Scouts who died in 1993.

Mueller, the grandson of Boy Scouts of America founder William Dickson Boyce, founded his organization to honor former Scouts who were gay and, according to a 1991 story in the Boston Globe, to counter the Boy Scouts’ beliefs at the time that gay men were somehow at odds with family values. An early member of the Forgotten Scouts was author Armistead Maupin.

Maupin might have found a good mystery to write about, namely, why is the grave of Tolson located in the area seemingly reserved for gays, when the man himself was never outed during his lifetime? How did this happen? Can someone in Tolson’ family, a relative with a truly dark sense of humor or perhaps an ax to grind, claim responsibility for this amazing feat of after-death change in sexual orientation?\

The Nation’s Capital is full of small and great mysteries. This is one of them.

Photo: Hoover and Tolson in 1931

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