History, Monumental, The Features

Monumental: Robert Emmet

Dublin Emmit Statue
Emmet statue in DC by Corinne Whiting

On a recent return trip to Dublin, Ireland, I happily killed some time strolling through the city oasis of St. Stephen’s Green. On my way out of the lush park, I meandered past a statue so familiar it brought me to a screeching halt. There stood a petticoat waistcoat-clad Robert Emmett (1778-1803)–bold jaw, foot forward, ready for battle. Now where I had seen this Irish patriot before?

But, of course. Where else but in DC, where memorials and monuments are so ubiquitous that many get passed without so much as a second glance. I too had been guilty of repeatedly strolling by this mystery man who reigns over a cozy triangular park near Massachusetts Avenue and 24th Street NW, having never stopped to learn his story. I vowed to visit him next time I found myself on embassy-lined Mass Ave.

Nestled beneath the branches of a Yoshino cherry tree, the DC Emmet stands on a granite pedestal just a few blocks from the Irish Embassy. This “boy martyr of Erin” appears mid-speech, one hand open in rhetorical gesture, the other somewhat clenched to display his “revolutionary spirit.” Emett’s father instilled in his sons a passion for Irish independence at a time when men and women-Catholic and Protestant-fought for freedom from Britain. Trinity College expelled the young Robert for his involvement in the 1798 rebellion and, in 1802, Emmet traveled to France as a member of the United Irishmen’s Party. Here he unsuccessfully appealed for French aid from Napoleon and Talleyrand. The following summer Emmet led an uprising outside of Dublin that British troops swiftly crushed. Emmet was executed (either hung or beheaded, accounts vary) on September 20, 1803 at the ripe age of 25.

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History, Mythbusting DC, The Features

DC Mythbusting: Boundary Stones

Photo courtesy of
‘Takoma 1791 Boundary Stone’
courtesy of ‘Mr. T in DC’

Welcome to another week’s DC Mythbusting.  This week we’ll talk about a myth I heard when I first moved to DC– that the city’s boundaries are marked off, every mile or so, with stones.  I heard that these stones had been placed long ago when Andrew Ellicott and Benjamin Banneker were surveying the city, and that they’re mostly still there.  I’d never seen them or heard of them outside of that once, so I assumed it was a myth. But I was wrong– this myth is confirmed!

Back in 1791 and 1792, Andrew Ellicott and friends went around the 10-mile square of the planned City of Washington and placed a boundary stone every mile.  The stones had four sides– facing inward towards DC (which read “Jurisdiction of the United States” and a mile number, facing outward (which showed the name of the bordering state, either Maryland or Virginia), and the other sides showed the year the stone was placed and the compass variance at that point.
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Monumental: Enjoying inside

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘sashapo’

Our weather seems to be doing its best to find painful and interesting ways to whipsaw between different combinations of wind, cold, rain, gloom and shine. It can be discouraging to try to plan an outdoor trip more than five minutes in advance and downright unpleasant to be out there sometimes. So in recognition of this fact Monumental’s going to spend the day indoors for a change and let someone else do the outdoor work.

In this case, photographer Lee Friedlander, who beat us to the monument-stalking by about 35 years. The Smithsonian possesses a large collection of photos he originally published in the 1976 book American Monuments, a collection of photos he took of monuments all over the country. The book is long out of print, but fifty-six of the photos are currently on display. Continue reading