Walter Pierce Park in Adams Morgan is for sure haunted. It was once home to two cemeteries. And when the Smithsonian broke ground on the National Zoo in 1889, the remains were supposedly “moved.” But we now know that isn’t entirely true.
While some of the remains were moved to other locations (such as Woodlawn Cemetery in Southeast D.C.), a Howard University group in 2005 found ample evidence that many remains were never actually moved. Evidence included exposed skeletal remains of at least nine people, coffin hardware, headstones, and grave offerings.
Continued geophysical surveys in later years found more than 35 intact graves from the old cemeteries. Archeologists say many more could remain deep underground where they can’t be detected by scientific equipment.
So Who Was Buried There?
Historians documented the records of 8,428 people, including many Black soldiers who fought in the Civil War and key players in Underground Railroad operations.
Descendants of the people buried in the cemeteries are working with the Department of Parks and Rec to create an “Ancestors Pavilion” to honor their family members.
Walter Pierce Park Today
Starting in the ‘60s, the former graveyard became an important space for kids in Adams Morgan. Some teenagers, including one named Walter Pierce, built a makeshift playground and organized games on the land..
The neighborhood maintained the area, which they dubbed “Community Park West,” and eventually convinced Congress to purchase the land. When Pierce died, the park was renamed in his honor.