The Constance Fenimore Woolson Society biennial conference in Washington D.C. was coming up and Joan- a colleague asked if I’d be interested (Woolson was a prolific 19th century writer. And yes, her great uncle was James Fenimore Cooper, author of the Leatherstocking Tales). Of course I jumped on board since Frances is buried at Arlington in the Roe family plot. I headed to the airport in -7 degree weather hoping DC was warmer than our crazy polar vortex Chicago temperatures.
We were greeted by frigid 19 degree weather as I pulled up my parka hood waiting for the metro train and soon deposited a few blocks from the hotel for the conference get-together. The Woolites are a nice eclectic mix of people dedicated to archival research. But my true mission was to find Roe which coincided with their sightseeing tour at Arlington! Two birds with one stone -or so I thought.
The next morning I awoke to one of Washington DC’s biggest snowstorms. Snowplows and shovels were missing in action and so were my boots in Chicago. The Arlington tour was replaced with the National Mall as we hailed the houdini-like cab drivers vanishing into the snowstorm along with the visit to Roe’s tomb since I would be leaving for Chicago the next day.
Sunday came and so did a balmy 36 degree warm-up! The melting snow formed rivulets and puddles everywhere. Knowing Arlington was only four stops from Reagan National Airport, I decided to squeeze it in! Arlington National Cemetery is an amazing scenic landscape filled with simple and ornate monuments curving with the hills and valleys. Maybe its me, but I felt an unwavering strength and inevitable humbleness within these hallowed grounds paying tribute to those who have served this country with their lives.
At the visitors center we excitedly paused for directions. Strike one. The Roe site information was wrong. Not one to take no for an answer, a good detective finds another way! I pulled up the website and based on my dates, the Roes’ monument is located in the Civil War section 2. However, it’s a mighty big section. Strike two. Grasping for clues, I looked at the large monument behind the Roe pillar- zooming in on the name George Crook. General Crook is a well-known site. I got the directions and we boarded the trolley.
Dropped off at the Tanner Amphitheater, I did a panoramic 360 degree view of the cemetery. With map in hand we started off on our search. The Civil War section is awe-inspiring and immense with markers every few feet. Looking around, we sloshed through melting snow until I saw the curve in the walk up ahead. Aargh, the puddle was the size of a kiddies wading pool! Joan was galloping ahead in her warm boots oblivious to the giant puddles. Stepping over the low chain link posts, I yelled, “Frances, where are you?” I looked down at my soggy shoes knowing this may be strike three. Out of frustration, I hollered “Tell me where you are!” Startled, Joan looks up screaming, “Mary, there she is!” It’s a home run right out of the park!!!
Through the fir trees is the Roe pillar. It’s 30 feet from where I’m standing but my view is blocked by General Crook’s colossal marker nestled in a cove of trees. We both passed the iconic monument but Joan has a clear site line to the Roe tomb. I slid down the slope to claim my newest find!
Rear Admiral Roe’s inscription faces forward and on the opposite side is his son- and Frances’ husband Fayette W. Roe’s plaque. Where’s Frances??? The pillar has a raised empty plaque of granite right below Fayette’s inscription, and obviously meant for Frances. The same empty plaque is on the front for RADM Roe’s wife. I stepped back searching the other monuments and see that most of them include the wives’ names. Moving backwards, I slipped on a small footstone and kneeled to wipe away the snow uncovering Elizabeth J. Roe. Where’s Frances? Maybe she’s here. I hunted around the pillar for more markers. No such luck until I saw a large raised convex granite slab with carved rosettes poking through the snow. The coarse granite snagged my drenched gloves while I brushed away the snow. Could this be Frances? It would be a fitting monument for her commitment to the military in the far West territories. Particularly, her devotion to the USMA, Americanism and all that came with it! No such luck. It’s not Frances. Time flies and we hurriedly catch the trolley back to the visitor’s center and race to Reagan Nat’l arriving with five minutes to spare.
I’m on another quest to find out out what happened to Frances M.A. Roe. Is she buried at Arlington? Frances and Fayette Roe were only children and childfree in their marriage. At this time, there’s no known family member who oversaw Frances’ internment. Based on her Last Will & Testament, her lawyer was the executor and a beneficiary of her estate. With that said, the hunt is on, and its back to the archives.
General George Crook Monument:
General Crook’s monument nestled in a cove of trees. The Roe obelisk in the background on the right side corner.
Roe obelisk at Arlington National Cemetery. Civil War: section 2: