“Standard advice for people who are planning a move into a new home is ‘get to know your neighborhood’ before you move in,” writes Ellouise Schoettler. The widow of a Vietnam-era physician and flight surgeon with whom she shared more than five decades and four children, Schoettler decided to get to know the people interred at Arlington National Cemetery after her husband was buried there. She already knew, and with him had mourned, one: their toddler daughter, who had succumbed to pneumonia many years before just hours after they had left her, protesting forcefully but in vain, assured that she would be be OK, at the military hospital.
Her only prop a stool to sit on or stand beside—and once or twice, for dramatic emphasis or emotional support, to grasp—the white-haired, soft-spoken, plain-speaking Schoettler, dressed in denims, her striated red blouse over a black top echoed in vermilion shoes and lipstick, the black brocade drapes of the Goethe Institute’s “main stage” behind her, is the kind of neighbor we’d all like to have. Drawing the small but demographically diverse audience into her world and the one in which more than 300,000 now reside, Schoettler, with photographs she has taken over the years of individual headstones, horse-drawn carts and carriages, honor guards and visitors projected on a large screen behind her, told us and showed us what Arlington National Cemetery has come to mean for her.
Schoettler herself had first been drawn to Arlington, as many of her generation were, by photographs and film of John F. Kennedy’s funeral there, now fifty years ago. Her own photos began with her husband’s—born and raised in California, “He would have expected it”—and her show was born from the notes she would take at the graveside, finding herself needing something meaningful to do during her regular visits, on her iPad. “And send ’em right out to everybody.”
And now sends them right out to us. Watching a group of middle-schoolers taken by their teacher to the grave of a teacher who died just a couple of years ago at age 25, “I thought to myself: They may not have known him. But they will never forget him. There is an African proverb,” she told us, closing a show ostensibly about death and loss, on a note of life and hope. “‘No man is truly dead, so long as he is remembered.’”
Arlington National Cemetery: My Forever Home plays through July 26, 2013 at the Goethe Institut – 812 7th Street, NW, in Washington, DC.
Running Time: 65 minutes.
For performance information and to purchase tickets, go to the show’s Capital Fringe page.
2013 Capital Fringe Show Preview: ‘Arlington National Cemetery: My Forever Home’ by Ellouise Schoettler.