(Remey Family Mausoleum)
Original Information from Volume 5 of the Gravestone Books
The Remey Family Mausoleum, called “The Remeum” by its builder, was located on just over five acres of land about one-half mile southwest of Pohick Church (q.v.), and east of Richmond Highway (Route 1). The mausoleum was the dream, and ultimate disappointment, of Charles Mason Remey who contracted with Pohick Church in 1937 for the rights to build a family memorial on the church grounds, perhaps choosing the location because of its connection to his ancestor, George Mason, according to The Death of a Mausoleum, by Shahrzad Shareghi and Annie S. Wang.
Charles Mason Remey was born in Burlington, Iowa on 15 May 1874, the eldest son of Rear Admiral George Collier Remey, U.S. Navy, and Mary Josephine Mason, according to autobiographical information Charles Remey sent to a friend and which is now on file in the Virginia Room, Fairfax City Regional Library. He studied widely in the late nineteenth century and became an instructor of descriptive geometry and an assistant professor of architecture at George Washington University from 1904 to 1908, and then toured the world studying Oriental architecture. While studying in Paris at the turn of the century, Remey became interested in the Baha’i World Faith and was chosen by the Head of the Faith in 1920 to design Baha’i temples in places such as Mount Carmel, Israel, Teheran, Iran, Kampala, Africa and Sydney, Australia.
According to the autobiographical sketch, Charles Remey married Mrs. Gertrude Heim Klemm in Paris on 17 July 1931. (Note that Gertrude Heim Remey’s gravestone gives the date of marriage as the eleventh of July.) Mrs. Remey died in Washington, D.C. on 5 August 1932, according to her husband in his sketch.
Construction of the Remey mausoleum began in 1939, according to an article by Thomas Love about the site in the 9 April 1973 issue of the Washington Evening Star and Daily News. Charles Remey’s memorial to his family and its contributions to the country was planned as a “magnificent complex of walled courtyards, underground chambers with soaring vaulted ceilings, marble reliefs and statues, carved pillars, chapels and burial vaults,” according to the Star. Remey devoted most of his modest fortune and many years of his life to build this grand edifice which was four times the size of Pohick Church when completed, according to The Death of a Mausoleum. The Star article reports that over two million bricks were used to construct the mausoleum.
The Star article describes panels of reliefs by Washington sculptor Felix de Weldon (known for the Iwo Jima Memorial near Arlington National Cemetery) which dramatized historic events in which the Remey family participated, “from the landing of the Mayflower to the sinking of the USS Yorktown.” A pair of “massive sleeping lions” by de Weldon guarded the entrance to the mausoleum. Inside the memorial were life-size statues depicting “Faith,” “Charity,” and a copy of Michaelangelo’s “Bruges Madonna.” Another series of reliefs illustrated the lives of Saint Peter, Saint Paul and Saint Stephen.
Remey commissioned life-size statues of his parents and a reclining figure of his wife. A huge marble sarcophagus carved in Lisbon was brought to the mausoleum for Charles Remey’s final resting place. The sarcophagus had an inner oak coffin with beautiful wooden carvings from Oberammergau, Germany. His wife’s body lay in a simple white marble sarcophagus next to his. Remey transported the bodies of fifteen other relatives, most from Iowa, according to the Star, and enshrined them in The Remeum.
Remey landscaped the grounds around the memorial, the Star reported, and provided water for the plantings and electricity to light the underground areas of the memorial. The Death of a Mausoleum says that he established a trust account with Pohick Church for the maintenance and security of the memorial.
Problems with the property began in the 1950s. The 27 March 1956 issue of the Evening Star describes the vandalism of the “unfinished Remey family memorial” by eleven Mount Vernon High School boys who used a steel bar, four axes and a pick to hack their way into The Remeum. Vandalism continued unabated over the next several years. The 9 April 1973 Star article described the desecration by “hundreds of vandals who have stolen, broken, defaced and burned their way through the complex over the years.”
The article describes the destruction in detail:
Rather than being the thing of beauty as it was designed, the mausoleum now resembles a dump. Fragments of smashed marble reliefs and statues litter the floors, along with beer cans, whiskey bottles and old candles. Wooden coffins and chests have been broken to bits and their charred remnants scattered....
Thousands of tiny glass fragments designed to form mosaics have been poured into the ground. Statues too large to steal or smash have been chipped and painted or blackened with soot from candles and torches.
Attempts to stop vandals from entering the mausoleum have been unsuccessful. Massive iron gates and heavy wooden doors have been cut, bent, ripped off their hinges and torn down. The entrance to the interior was blocked with a wall three-bricks thick in which a hole large enough for entry has been opened.
What was planned to serve as a place of worship and remembrance is now the scene of nocturnal beer busts, drug parties, high school initiations and exploring expeditions....
An unknown number of urns containing the ashes of cremated bodies still lie amidst the trash in the mausoleum. One near the door has a plate which simply says “ashes of K. D. K.” Relatives believe that this may be Mrs. Remey’s first husband. An urn bearing the name of “Charles Estherbrook” lies open and empty.
By 1958, Pohick Vestry expressed concern about the vandalism and desecration taking place so near their historic site. The Remeum was large and imposing, but in an area remote enough that the church and local authorities were unable to provide security. In 1962, the Vestry refused to grant permission for further expansion, according to the 1973 Star article. Negotiations were soon underway to break the 1937 contract. An agreement was reached in 1968 in which the property reverted to Pohick Church. Remey was given five years to remove anything of value from the mausoleum. Admiral Watley, Remey’s brother-in-law, transferred the remains of fifteen family members to Pompey, New York. At the time of the 1973 article, plans were underway to reinter Gertrude Remey in Pohick Cemetery. The grave marker over her grave there appears to be a marble plaque from the Remeum. After her removal, the Remeum was demolished.
Charles Mason Remey was living in Florence, Italy by 1966. He died there on 4 February 1974, aged 99 years. In a final insult, his obituary in the 24 February 1974 issue of the Washington Star gives his name as George Mason Remey. The obituary does not reveal where Charles Mason Remey was buried.
No Updates from Volume 6 of the Gravestone Books