No one knows how he came to be buried there, but 155 years ago the body of an American Revolutionary War soldier was discovered in the church yard of the Old Presbyterian Meeting House in Alexandria.
Yesterday as Americans celebrated Independence Day with picnics and fireworks, hardly anyone stopped to pay tribute to the tomb of the unknown soldier of the Revolution.
"People are so busy on Independence Day" said an Alexandria resident who wandered into the church yard.
The known soldier was buried in an ammunition box in an unmarked grave during the Revolutionary War and apparently forgotten by his comrades, according to a Daugthers of the American Revolution publication.
The body was discovered accidentally in 1821, when workers were excavating a foundation for the rear wall of the Catholic Chapel (which is now St. Mary's Church) and came upon the gravesite, according to the DAR publication.
"His tattered uniform identified his as a Revolutionary soldier and the buttons showed he was from Kentucky," according to an early newspaper article.
A new grave was prepared for the soldier immediately and the body was reinterred. Church records simply note the reinterment as "Jan. 19, 1821. An Old Revolutionary Soldier from Kentucky."
The tomb sits in a corner of the church yard between two trees. An American flag lies at the head of the tomb, which is surrounded by a fence.
At least one local historian contends that the tomb does not contain the remains of a Revolutionary War soldier. That historian, Jean Elliot, says that the tomb has not been recognized nationally as the resting place of an unknown soldier.
Church elders concede the tomb has been the center of some controversy, but the Rev. William R. Sengel, church pastor since 1960, said that the tomb's preservation and the concept behind it have been praised by many people.
Every memorial day, young men belonging to an association called the Mount Vernon Guard maintain a daylong vigil at the graveside, and each spring the Children of the American Revolution, an affiliate of the Daughters of the American Revolution, pay a visit to the tomb and lay a wreath.
The idea to dedicate the tomb as a memorial was first suggested in 1926 by the late Mary Geogory Powell. According to one newspaper account in the possession of Sengel, Mrs. Powell's father had pointed out the gravesite to her when she was a child.
Sengel maintains that the tomb is frequented by visitors, but yesterday over a three-hour period no visitors could be found at the grave.