MGM National Harbor Corrects Grave Error, Digs Up and Moves 400-Year-Old Colonists

Posted on: September 27, 2017, 05:00h. 

Last updated on: September 27, 2017, 03:09h.

Maryland’s $1.4 billion MGM National Harbor is gently kicking out some unwanted stiffs, but not the kind who haven’t paid their casino credit line. Nope, these deadbeats are actually, well, dead.

MGM National Harbor cemetery
Moving the almost 400-year-old cemetery outside MGM National Harbor, where early American colonists were buried, might have the dead rolling over in their graves. At the very least, it has their descendants fit to be tied. (Image: Karen Egloff/The Washington Post)

Just steps from the sleek and modern 23-story hotel tower sits a centuries-old graveyard on a grassy knoll, surrounded by fencing and protected around the clock by a lone security guard. For guests about to test their luck at a casino, the graveyard’s location might seem a bit more appropriate for the old Mob Vegas than a property near the nation’s capital.

That perhaps disconcerting site is now in the process of being dug up, one skeleton and grave marker at a time, and relocated to a nearby church. According to the Washington Post, an African-American man who claims to be a descendant of one of the graveyard’s occupants unsuccessfully filed a legal suit claiming ownership to the land on which MGM National Harbor now sits.

The cemetery belongs to the Addison family, a then-prominent Colonial family of about 70 folks who made their home along the Potomac River back in the 1600s.

Christian Carter, the man who filed the property lawsuit against the MGM development along with Tanya Lyle, another black relative of the colonists, claims his African-American descendants should have rightfully inherited the land. His lawsuit alleges that Addison willed the land to his Caucasian children, but really only had offspring with his African-American slave mistress.

That argument was dismissed in Prince George’s County District Court, however.

An interesting sidenote is that the now 34-year-old Carter ran for mayor of Washington, D.C. three years ago, losing to Muriel Bowser.

The Moving Dead

After proven ancestors of the Addison family approved the relocation, and the Prince George’s County Office of the State’s Attorney signed off on the digging up of the graves, the process of moving the cemetery to the St. John’s Episcopal Church in Fort Washington, Maryland began.

Peterson Companies is footing the bill, the real estate development firm that worked with MGM Resorts to bring National Harbor to fruition.

The cemetery controversy gained widespread media attention for the possibility it was John Hanson’s resting place. The 9th President of the Continental Congress, and a close friend of the Addison family, Hanson has been rumored to be one of the 36 bodies in the graveyard. Most of the graves are worn down and illegible, or unmarked.

Peter Michael, a Hanson descendant, told the Washington Post he has no qualms whatsoever with the relocation. “It sits there practically at the doorstep of what? A casino. Not a dignified place for anybody to be buried.”

Apparently, it was protocol back in the day to bury bodies facing the sun, which had something to do with a Biblical prediction of future redemption. Those relocating the dead have promised to keep their chances for that by facing them the same way for Round Two.

“They will put everybody in the ground in the way they came out,” St. John’s rector, the Reverend Sarah Odderstol, noted at a ceremony that preceded the archeological dig to pull up the graves’ inhabitants back in early August, adding, ” … This space [by the MGM National Harbor] is no longer what it once was.”

Lively Inside Resort

Regardless of the actions occurring outside its walls, the MGM National Harbor casino itself is alive and well.

Year-to-date, the MGM gaming floor has generated $207.8 million in gross slot terminal revenue, and another $192.3 million from table games. During a call with investors discussing MGM’s second quarter performance, CEO Jim Murren said National Harbor “couldn’t be doing better.”

Maryland’s six casinos have generated $1.075 billion in gross revenue in 2017, and MGM National Harbor accounts for almost 37 percent of the total take.