William Pope McArthur
Born April 2, 1814, Ste. Genevieve, Missouri
Died December 23, 1850, Panama
The tall white marble gravestone in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. is a cenotaph—empty tomb. According to the June 15th, 1854, Evening Star, there is a “handsome column in memory of Lieutenant McArthur, erected by his brother officers of the coast survey; the shaft of the column is ornamented with an anchor, and a surveying instrument, typical of his occupation, is carved on the base.”
Lieutenant McArthur was a naval officer who studied various aspects of the coastal waters—including participating in the first surveys of the Pacific Coast for the United States and Geodetic Survey.
An anchor is carved on the shaft of the monument. The anchor is an ancient Christian symbol that has been found in early catacomb burials. The anchor was used by early Christians as a disguised cross. The anchor also served as a symbol of Christ and his anchoring influence in the lives of Christians. Just as an anchor does not let a moored boat drift, the anchoring influence of Christ does not allow the Christian life to drift. The symbolism in this case, however, most likely represents the fact that Lieutenant McArthur served in the U.S. Navy.
The large block of marble on which the column rests is called a plinth. A surveying instrument, one of his tools of the trade, is carved on the plinth—a reminder of the work that Lieutenant McArthur that led his fellow officers to honor his work and life.