Tales from the Crypt

August 5 1992

{josquote}Whether his plans worked out or not, he succeeded in creating a magnificent structure. He made something which played a significant role in the lives of young people.{/josquote}

Edgar Allan Poe would have felt right at home in the underground chapels and burial vaults of the Remey Mausoleum, which used to be located about a quarter-mile from Pohick Church near Route 1.

The crypts with their marble pillars and vaulted ceilings, were erected by author-lecturer Charles Mason Remey in the late 1930s. After years of vandalism and break-ins by assorted thrill seekers, the elaborate mausoleum was demolished in stages from the late 1970s through the early '80s.

Remey constructed the mausoleum on Pohick Church property, because he claimed to be the great-grandson of George Mason, a founding member of the church (with George Washington). The burial crypts were to inter the Remy family, most of whom had come here from Iowa.

Within the structure, a huge marble sarcophagus, carved in Lisbon, Portugal, awaited Remey's body. The mausoleum contained the remains of 15 Remey relatives, including Remey's wife Gertrude, who died a year after their marriage.

A series of reliefs showed important incidents in American history in which Remey's relatives had participated, from the landing of the Mayflower to the sinking of the USS Yorktown, carved by Felix de Weldon, who sculpted the Iwo Jima memorial in Arlington.

De Weldon also sculpted a pair of massive sleeping stone lions which were at the mausoleum's entrance

Most of the marble within the complex came from Italy and was also used for life-size figures of "Faith" and "charity" and a replica of Michelangelo's "Bruges Madonna". There were also reliefs depicting the lives and martyrdoms of Saints Peter, Paul and Stephen.

The Mausoleum, which reportedly was four times larger than Pohick Church, occupied about five acres of land. It was about 20 to 30 feet tall and had five levels of underground chambers.

The "remeum" is a sore spot in Pohick Church's history which church officials said is best forgotten. The mausoleum was constantly plagued with vandals and looters, eventually compelling Remey to abandon the project and for Pohick Church to have the complex destroyed.

"At one time I took a tour of Pohick Church and they were pretty open when I asked about the crypts," said Chris Johnston, a Woodbridge resident who claims to have visited the mausoleum nearly 100 times as a teenager. "The tour guide rolled her eyes and said, 'That's been a thorn in our sides for years; an albatross around our necks.'

In a 1974 letter, John Bloom, a former employee of the National Archives, wrote, "It has become very run-down, very sadly vandalized and was a haven for persons bent on licentious conduct, especially taking drugs, and was too large to be kept under security by the chuch authorities short of heroic measures."

For example, the March 27, 1956 issue of the Washington Evening Star reported that 11 Fairfax County high school boys chopped a three-foot-quare entrance hole into the side of the main burial vault after hearing a history lesson at Mount Vernon High School about the ancient crypts and tombs of Egypt.

"It was an extremely popular hangout," Johnston said of the 1970s crypt scene. "But no one I knew went there to vandalize the place. We were more interested in what we could see."

Even the gigantic size of the mausoleum was an issue. In a 1958 memo, the church complaine that "in size, it more than rivals the historic and sacred shrine of Pohick Church itself."

In 1962, according to the Evening Star, the Pohick vestry refused to allow further expansion of the 2-million brick mausoleum and in 1973 an agreement was signed which gave control of the land to the church.

Attempts to stop vandals from entering the mausoleum were unsuccessful. Massive iron gates and heavy wooden doors were cut, bent, ripped off their hinges and torn down. The entrance was blocked with a wall three bricks thick, which was breeched by the hight school students in 1956. According to reports, acts of vandalism peaked in 1968.

"There was this statue in one chamber of this guy and his dog, and his head had been knocked off," Johnston said. "That place was very spooky. Even in broad daylight it was scary."

In 1973, the Evening Star reported, "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. When police investigate incidents at night, they respond in pairs - not singly."

The story of Charles Mason Remey is as intriguing as the bizarre history of the family mausoleum or "Remeum," which he designed. Born in 1874, Remey lived in the Washington area and was an assistant professor of architecture at George Washington University in the early 1900s.

As an adult, he converted to the Baha'i Faith, which was established in Iran in the 19th century. Remey designed the Baha'i temple on Mount Carmel in Israel, the Moschak-el-Azkar temple in Tehran in Iran and other temples in Africa and Australia. The bulk of his fortune was spent in the construction of the $1 million mausoleum near Pohick Church.

According to Shahzad Sharegi's 1991 "The death of a Mausoleum" -- a high school research paper now on file in the Virginia Room -- Remey was at one point excommunicated from the faith when he claimed to be the Second Guardian of the Baha'i World Faith.

In a 1974 letter, Julia Stickley, a former employee of the National Archives, wrote, "He was good enough to include me in his solemn warning that the [North and South] Poles were shifting and the world was about to be flooded.

The bodies of the family members and selected friends of the Remeys were removed to Pompey, N.Y., in 1966. Charles Remey died in Florence, Italy, in 1974 at the age of 99 -- he was nearly impoverished because his fortune was spent in the mausoleum's construction. He is reportedly also buried in Pompey, N.Y.

Pohick Church stated nothing remains at the site of the once imposing mausoleum except a small brick tower which used to adjoin the complex. However, strictly enforced no-trespassing signs have been posted for good measure.

"Whether his plans worked out or not, he succeeded in creating a magnificent structure. He made something which played a significant role in the lives of young people," said Johnston, recalling how his youthful imagination was stirred by his frequent visits to the crypt.

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