GHOST STORIES, goblins and ghouls. Here's your chance to mingle with spirits at the ninth annual All Hallow's Festival in Capitol Hill's Congressional Cemetery this Saturday. How better to celebrate Halloween than with a stroll through this 177-year-old graveyard, the country's first national cemetery.
But there's no reason to be scared. Really. The only specters here are figments of your imagination, for not one of the 60,000 people buried in this 35-acre cemetery seems to have taken up haunting. "It's absolutely disappointing that we have no ghosts," says Sharon Lewis, the cemetery's administrator. "Octagon House, the White House and National Theater all have ghosts. We have no one amongst the spirits who wants to wander around here." To make up for this deficit, Congressional will install ghosts in the emetery's trees in the form of white balloons for Saturday's Halloween gala.
Youngsters can dress up in their spookiest disguises and each will receive a prize. Two years ago, Wick Kraemer, 10, a fifth grader at St. Peter's School, and his nine- year-old sister Betsy each won a dollar in the costume contest. "We put the money into a savings account for college. My dad wanted us to," he says. This year, he'll dress as a punk. "I'll wear an earring, a leather jacket, leg zip-up pants and I'll dye my hair green with water dye color. I've never tried it. I hope it comes out."
Joe McMahon, another 10-year-old St. Peter's fifth-grader and a veteran gala-goer, plans to be a soldier in full camouflage, with madeup cuts and bruises on his face. He says you can always count on Congressional Cemetery's festivities for some great Halloween fun.
The day's scariest moments will be in the turn-of-the-century restored church with its six holding vaults, where storytellers will be spinning yarns. There'll be the Irish ghost story "Mary Culhane and the Dead Man," also known as "Cakes of Oatmeal and Blood," which recounts a girl's nighttime foray to fetch her father's walking stick from beside a newly dug grave. If really young children are present, the storytellers may tell less macabre stories, such as Mark Twain's "The Golden Arm."
But no one in the audience will die of fright, as does the young lass in another story, "The Girl Who Stood on a Grave." Everyone will probably sit in rapt attention as the girl accepts a challenge from her friends to stand on a shadowy grave after dark. In another ghoulish story, a yellow ribbon proves to be more than a decoration when an old man unties it from around his wife's neck.
If you find the stories too terrifying, then stroll outside for some warm, reassuring food -- Italian sausage, hot dogs, donuts, popcorn, cider, ice cream, soft drinks and beer, for adults only. Or get a different kind of thrill with a ride on the ferris wheel or train.
For $1, the whole family can play Not So Trivial Pursuits -- 20 questions about Congressional's history and residents, among them Matthew Brady, the Civil War photographer; Choctaw Indian Chief Push-ma-ta- ha; John Philip Sousa, the "March King"; and J. Edgar Hoover, first FBI director. Graves involved in the game will be marked and Congressional Cemetery Association members will be on hand to answer any questions. There'll be a drawing for winners and prizes will be awarded.
Wick Kraemer, the punk in costume, is looking forward to the gala, even though "it's spooky going to a cemetery." Because once you're there, you know it's Halloween.
A GHOSTLY GALA -- Congressional Cemetery's All Hallow's Festival begins at noon and runs through 3 p.m. Every child's costume wins a prize. Free admission; fees for food and rides. The entrance to the cemetery is at 1801 E Street SE. If you're taking Metrorail, exit at the Orange or Blue lines' Potomac station and walk four blocks east on Potomac Avenue; or exit at the Stadium/Armory station, take the Hospital exit, walk one block south and turn right onto Potomac Avenue. The cemetery is at the end of the block. 543-0539.