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Correction to This Article
A Jan. 29 article on the discovery of human remains in Georgetown misstated the boundaries of an old Presbyterian cemetery that was located on the present-day site of Volta Park. The site is bordered by 33rd, 34th and Q streets and Volta Place NW. At the time of the cemetery's existence, Volta Place was known as Q Street, and today's Q Street was called R Street.
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Unearthing the Secrets of the Past

By the late 1800s, it was mostly abandoned, with graves and tombs looted of their bricks and marble, and children playing among the scraps that were left behind.

"Nearly one hundred tombs have been ruthlessly broken open," states a Washington Post article from May 14, 1901. "A little scratching with a cane brings pieces of bone to the surface. . . . Graves have been obliterated, and half of those who were buried could not be located should the descendants want to remove the bodies to another burial ground."

An old tombstone was found on the roof of a house on Q Street NW nearly 50 years ago. It now lies in the garden under a stone pedestal and carved head. (Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)

The remaining bodies were eventually moved to make way for a playground and swimming pool, precursors to today's Volta Park.

Ryan Shepard, a research librarian for the Historical Society of Washington, said he "wouldn't be at all surprised if at some point somebody found bones and brought them home to show everybody and reburied them."

Such pilfering could also explain how the old tombstone ended up on the roof of neighbor Page Wilson's house. Wilson's sons eventually lowered the stone to the ground with ropes. It now sits in the garden, topped by a stone pedestal and a carved head from France.

The faded inscription seems to include the date of death as 1810.

Contractors adding on to Wilson's house in 1958 found a skull near the foundation, she said. Smithsonian researchers said it probably came from a woman in her thirties, of African descent. Wilson said her husband buried it in the back yard, but she does not remember where.

"We put it in a nice white paper bag," she said. "We were all quite reverential about it."

A few doors down the block is the home where Eva Eden was born a century ago. Eden, now a resident of the Georgetown retirement home, likes to tell the story of her father uncovering the remains of nine bodies in the dirt floor or walls of their basement, then burying them in a nearby alley.

Susan Vroman and Jim Albrecht, Georgetown University professors who live on the block, say they want to build an addition on the rear of their house but have decided, based on their neighbors' experiences, not to lay an underground foundation.

"We haven't dug in the basement," Vroman said. "Now, I'm never going to."

Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.

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