In 1971 John Y. Cole, director of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, completed his doctoral dissertation on Ainsworth Rand Spofford (1825-1908). Spofford served as Librarian of Congress from 1864 to 1897 and as chief assistant librarian until his death. As Spofford's biographer, Cole was aided in his research by Spofford's descendants, particularly great-granddaughter Diana Spofford Laylin (1913-1990) of Great Falls, Va., and his great-grandson, John Spofford Morgan (1917- ) of New York City. Cole's research and his close association with the Spofford family led to a discovery and ultimately a resolution about the final resting place of the former Librarian of Congress.
In the late 1960s, I was engaged in documenting former Librarian of Congress Ainsworth Spofford's crucial role in developing the Library into a national institution. Among his accomplishments, Spofford centralized all U.S. copyright activity at the Library in 1870 and subsequently persuaded Congress to build the Thomas Jefferson Building.
While researching Spofford, I also learned that he was buried in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C. I visited the cemetery, noted the plot number in the cemetery office and located the Spofford tombstone. While his wife Sarah's name was on the stone, I soon noted that Ainsworth's was not! While verifying in the office that Ainsworth was cremated and his ashes were located with Sarah's remains, I noticed that his name also was missing from the cemetery's handout that lists more than 50 notable Washingtonians buried there. Among these are Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Alexander "Boss" Shepard, Upton Sinclair, and perhaps best known of all, Henry Adams and his wife, Marian (the subject of St. Gaudens' famous statue "Grief").
More than 20 years later, the matter of Spofford's lack of public visibility at Rock Creek Cemetery was discussed but no action was taken. The occasion was the formal presentation to the Library of Spofford's 1864 certificate of appointment as Librarian of Congress. On May 2, 1994, in the presence of 11 other Spofford descendants, great-grandson John Spofford Morgan presented the Dec. 31, 1864, certificate—signed by President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward—to Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. Billington noted that the gift was "a wonderful way to begin our celebration of the reopening of the Jefferson Building and of the Library's bicentennial decade."
Nearly a decade late, on Nov. 11, 2003, I received an e-mail from Spencer Smith, Spofford's great-great-great-grandson, then a student at George Washington University. He reminded me that we had met on May 2, 1994, when, as a 9-year-old, he had accompanied his mother, Deborah Smith, to the certificate presentation at the Library. Spencer had decided to write a paper about his ancestor and sought my advice. Before long I brought up the matter of the Rock Creek Cemetery situation. Two weeks later I heard from Spencer's mother, who told me that she and her son together would "rally the family" for the gravesite cause.
The story has a happy ending. In a 2004 letter to the family, John Spofford Morgan explained the cemetery situation and the need to correct it. He also pointed out that, as the most direct descendant, he felt an obligation to pay the cost of adding Ainsworth's name to the Spofford tombstone. Today the new words on the Spofford tombstone (Section E, Lot 32, pictured at left) read "Ainsworth Rand Spofford, 1825-1908, Librarian of Congress, 1864-1897, Appointed by President Lincoln." The same words have been added to the cemetery's public handout listing its most notable residents.
With the matter of the tombstone resolved, Morgan suggested that family members might want to contribute instead to a worthy Library of Congress cause, namely the Center for the Book, since its director had brought the situation to the family's attention. The center subsequently received a generous gift from a Spofford family member.