> The Answer Man
> March 13, 2011
> That relatively small parcel - near a Starbucks
> and a Safeway, across from a Citgo - has been the
> subject of some of the biggest battles over road
> improvements in Fairfax County. But before we get
> to them, accompany Answer Man back to 1863 and
> another battle: Gettysburg.
> It was there that a Confederate soldier from
> Fairfax County named Armistead T. Thompson had the
> misfortune of being captured. He spent 17 months
> at the Union prison camp at Point Lookout, Md.,
> before contracting typhoid and dying there, one of
> nearly 4,000 prisoners who perished at the abysmal
> facility. Armistead was buried on the campgrounds.
> In the 1880s, his father, Lawson Turner Thompson,
> went to Point Lookout and collected Armistead's
> remains for burial in the family graveyard.
> We can't say for sure when the first body went
> into the ground at the Thompson family cemetery.
> It might have been a veteran of the War of 1812
> named Ethan Allen (not that Ethan Allen). What's
> clear is that when Lawson Turner Thompson died in
> 1886, his will left a half-acre of land to his
> heirs for use as a cemetery.
> After that, it's a familiar story: What had been
> rural slowly became anything but. Various members
> of the Thompson clan sold bits of their land to
> developers. In the 1920s and 1930s, Lee Highway
> was widened, nibbling away at the cemetery. In
> 1973, construction started on the Pan Am Shopping
> Center. Developers wanted to disinter all the
> remains and move them to another cemetery to make
> way for the parking lot.
> The Thompsons fought back, persuading a judge to
> block the shopping center's action. Twice since
> then, the Virginia Department of Transportation
> has wanted to encroach on the graveyard to add
> lanes to Lee Highway. In 1979, 63-year-old Alfred
> Thompson was arrested after sitting in a lawn
> chair in the cemetery to block a bulldozer. He
> vowed to be buried there when his time came.
> In 1989, VDOT threatened again. "Now, what is more
> important?" the Rev. Ronald Clark asked at a
> family protest held that year at the graveyard.
> "Getting to the shopping center or considering
> where we will be when we, too, have gone the way
> of the earth?"
> After determining that it could not be sure that a
> set of plans prepared in 1937 were accurate, VDOT
> backed off.
> No one knows for sure how many bodies are buried
> there. Sources mention anywhere from nine to 70.
> Today, there are only two headstones visible, one
> for three members of a branch of the family known
> as the Tobins, the other for Armistead, the Civil
> War veteran. Other graves might have been marked
> with simple fieldstones that were taken by vandals
> or used to fill depressions in the road.
> The last recorded burial was in July 1918. That
> means the lawn chair-sitting, bulldozer-defying
> Alfred Thompson must be buried somewhere else,
> right? Nope. He isn't buried anywhere. He is 95
> years old and living in Falls Church.
> "I did want to be buried there," Alfred told
> Answer Man. But he changed his mind. "I just
> thought it would be kind of lonesome down there."
> Most of Alfred's contemporaries are buried at
> Fairfax City Cemetery. That's where Audrey, his
> wife of 68 years, was buried just last year. And
> that's where he'll go.
> Alfred said he knows some might wonder why his
> family has gone to so much trouble over a bunch of
> dead relatives, but he likes the result. "What it
> is is a little green oasis floating in a sea of
> asphalt," Alfred says of the graveyard in a
> shopping center.
Thank you for the interesting piece of history.