With the business of Halloween (taken from hallowed as in holy eve) behind us, we pay tribute on November 1st, as we celebrate All Souls Day and The Day of the Dead. Many many souls are remembered due to the generous efforts and hard work of generations of staff and volunteers who have made Georgetown cemeteries such sacred space.
Oak Hill Cemetery is full of great DC stories, not the least of which are of William Corcoran who donated the land and founded the cemetery.
He was a banker and founder of the Corcoran & Riggs Bank, later known as Riggs National Bank. American art was his jam and with his grand collection He founded the Corcoran Gallery of Art (the original building is now the Renwick Gallery).
He restored a house on Farragut Square to create one of the first Italianate houses in DC.
He hosted the hottest ticket in town with his weekly stag party “the chief rendezvous for distinguished men” aka, a smoker.
His wine cellar was legendary.
He loved to present the ladies fine Hendacre at his frequent parties with a bounty of flowers from the lush garden.
As a friend to first Lady Sara Polk, he offered her design tips to redecorate the White House and ran errands for her on his frequent trips to New York.
Louise, his only daughter, had a scandalous romance with a Portuguese foreign secretary whom Corcoran implored President Buchanan to send back to Portugal.
To no avail, Foreign Secretary Muruagea, challenged Corcoran to a duel for the affront, which Corcoran refused.
William Corcoran must be spinning in his grave! The two biggest organizations that he founded were ruined by subsequent generations.
Riggs National Bank leadership were all removed for bank fraud and money laundering for foreign dictators, most notably Augusto Pinochet of Chili, whose people would bring stuffed bags of cash to put in his personal account. The bank was levied with the largest penalty in US banking history. It was sold to PNC.
And his beloved Corcoran Gallery was mismanaged, closed and most of its collection dispersed to DC museums & George Washington University.