Downtown, History, Monumental, The Features

Monumental: Pershing Park

Photo courtesy of
‘Film! – Canon A-1 – Pershing in Focus -11-7-08’
courtesy of ‘mosley.brian’

Few people think much of Pershing Park. I’d wager that most walk by without noticing it. In spite of Pershing Park being DC’s largest World War I memorial, it serves primarily as a napping place for the homeless and a thoroughfare for tourists walking from Federal Triangle station to the White House. You never see people stopping to take pictures or reading the inscriptions on statue pedestals, and the space is a bit disordered and poorly maintained. In and of itself, the park is hardly worth writing about, but it does serve as a disheartening case study of Americans’ indifference towards our nation’s participation in the Great War.

Pershing Park is located on 15th and Pennsylvania, between the Willard and the Commerce building. It was constructed in 1981 by the Pennsylvania Ave. Development Commission in honor of Gen. John J. Pershing and the American Expeditionary Forces. In case you’re a little hazy on your history, Gen. Pershing was one of America’s greatest military minds and “General of the Armies,” the highest rank ever held by any American officer aside from George Washington (although, Washington received this distinction posthumously). Pershing commanded the Expeditionary Forces during World War I and his over all strategy has been credited by many as a deciding factor in the Allied victory of World War I. In the course of a year and a half of combat, his armies suffered over 300,000 casualties, but succeeded in dislodging the Germans from many key locations in Europe.

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Monumental, The Features

Monumental: Eastern Market


While Monumental is traditionally the realm of the markers and monuments and memorials left throughout the city, Council Chairman Graham said something at this morning’s re-opening of Eastern Market that stuck with me. He said that Eastern Market was DC’s own Monument, more so than any of the Washington monuments. He couldn’t be more right. Let’s take a look at our rededicated monument to city life.

Eastern Market was constructed in 1873, designed by Adolf Cluss. The District was attempting to urbanize and part of that plan was a series of local markets for produce and meat. Cluss designed Central and Eastern markets as part of the new system. As the Post would point out in the wake of the fire, Eastern Market is truly local. The architecture of the space, done in the Italian style, in old red brick, is set at odds with the Federal style of granite, marble and columns.

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Monumental, The Features

Monumental: The Arsenal Memorial

Photo courtesy of
‘Arsenal Monument’
courtesy of ‘kimberlyfaye’

Awesome photographer Kim Baker pointed me to the Arsenal Memorial for this week’s Monumental column. It’s part of Congressional Cemetery over in Southeast, just south of RFK, and a really amazing place to go see. Congressional is the first national cemetery, established 200 years ago. Many former members of the House and Senate are buried there, alongside Washington’s elite, including the King of the March, John Philip Sousa.

June 17, 1864 was a hot day in Washington. In the arsenal at 4th Street, a staff of 100 people was busy assembling shells for use by the Union Army in the Civil War. What happened that morning is one of the original cases for good fireworks laws. A few pans of flare pellets set out in the sun to dry would spontaneously combust and throw sparks through the open window of the arsenal. What happened next is right out of a Michael Bay movie. More than 20 people died when the whole gunpowder store went up in a massive explosion. 18 were burned to death in the explosion and three more died in the ensuing panic.

The memorial was the result of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who ordered that the department would bear all the costs of the funeral for those who died in the explosion and fire. The monument that stands there bears the name of the 21 who died, as well as a marble figurine of a woman with folded hands. It was the result of a citywide collection in the following year, which raised $3,000 to allow Lot Flannery to create the monument that stands at Congressional now.

Monumental, The Features, WTF?!

Monumental: The Zero Milestone

Photo courtesy of
‘Washington, DC’
courtesy of ‘iguerra’

You might’ve spotted this small obelisk on the Ellipse, as it sits there just opposite the White House on the north end. It was supposed to be something much like the American Meridian: designed to be a measuring point for all of the highways in the United States. Instead? It’s just the measuring point for the highways in the District of Columbia (yeah, I know, what highways?). But why a milestone at all? The system of highways was dependent upon common reference measures in order to handle guidebooks and maps, as well as establishing distances between locations. Thus, if they were measured from a common location, which could be surveyed and plotted appropriately, better travel guides and directions could be created.

The milestone dates back to the post World War I era, when expansion of the highway system was just beginning. In 1919, an advocate for the early highway system, Dr. S. M. Johnson, proposed a single national marker, based on the Roman system, from which all roads would be measured. He wrote to the Army Motor Transportation Corps, “The system of highways radiating from Washington to all the boundaries of the national domain and all parts of the Western hemisphere will do vastly more for national unity and for human unity than even the roads of the Roman Empire.” His letter was successful, and after an act of Congress, a temporary marker was erected before a large convoy of vehicles would take the Lincoln Highway from DC west to San Francisco on July 7th, 1919.

President Harding would dedicate the permanent marker that now rests on the Ellipse in June of 1923. It would be the first of many to follow, including milestones in San Diego (for the Lee Highway), Nashville, and other major cities on the national highway system that existed prior to the Eisenhower Interstate System that we know today. US 1’s milestone is in Key West, Florida. Our milemarker is a short obelisk with a bronze 16 point compass rose, atop it, inscribed with some of the journeys that began from it in 1919 and 1920.

So, our milestone stands proud, just south of the White House, on the site of the Jefferson Pier, on one of the great meridians of Washington. Though its purpose is past, it reminds us that context, and where you measure your roads from, is ever-shifting beneath us. You can read more about the first national truck convoys, or about those involved with the milestone, courtesy of the Department of Transportation.

Monumental, The Features

Monumental: West Potomac Park

Photo courtesy of

‘Tidal Basin path’ courtesy of ‘brianmka’

Don’t laugh, but it could be that Nirvana is something like sitting in West Potomac Park on a beautiful day in spring. This past Sunday was one of those near-perfect days in DC: Bright warm sun, low humidity, slight breeze. I sat facing the river, the encouraging cheers of softball players and clink of the metal bat finding contact with the ball perforating the silence. I regretted not bringing my new skateboard to the park. I’d come across that one at globo surf and took an instant liking for it. A little girl wandered around to my right, collecting pieces of grass in an over-stuffed plastic bag. A father led another little girl, no more than 2 years old, by the hand through the weeping branches of the river-side trees. People all around the park were having picnics, pushing strollers, jogging, biking, barbecuing.

West Potomac Park stretches from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial and down to include the FDR Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the Korean War Memorial and–of course–some 3,000 Cherry Blossom trees. The Tidal Basin, the oblong pool south of the Washington Monument and north of the Jefferson, is an artificial inlet that culls water from the Potomac and the Washington Channel. Old-school romancers may be seen paddling around the basin in those paddleboat contraptions. Continue reading

Monumental, The Features

Monumental: National Japanese American Memorial To Patriotism During World War II

Crane and Barbed Wire 2
Crane and Barbed Wire 2 by tbridge

The National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II stands on a small triangle of land just north of the Capitol between D St NW, New Jersey Ave and Louisiana Ave. The beautiful bronze crane in barbed wire rises above the low cement landscape, a 14-foot statue designed by Nina Akamu, in demonstration of the Japanese-American’s plight during the second world war. While you might be more familiar with the larger World War II Memorial on the Mall, this monument stands in admittance of the difficult situation that Japanese Americans were placed at the start of hostilities against the Empire of Japan in 1941.

By 1942, many Japanese Americans were placed in Internment camps throughout the Western United States, often in the midst of deserts and other wastelands. Their names, like Manzanar, Topaz and Jerome, are inscribed into the western retaining wall, along with the number of American citizens contained therein. Over 110,000 people, three quarters American citizens, were detained by the United States Government during World War II in these camps. The blanket actions were meant to discourage espionage by those who could be loyal to the Japanese Empire inside the United States. In 1988, President Reagan signed into law an apology on the behalf of the American Government to those who were interned in those camps, and paid out a $1.6B reparation to the families and survivors. Continue reading

Downtown, Life in the Capital, Monumental, News, The Daily Feed, The Mall

$78M for Mall Monument Renewal

Photo courtesy of
‘DC WWI Memorial Inscription’
courtesy of ‘Mr. T in DC’

The Post has the news this morning that the Department of the Interior will be spending almost $80M on DC-area monuments and memorials to bring them back to their former glory. I’m most pleased to see that the DC War Memorial will be picking up $7.6M for a badly-needed rejuvenation project. The last one was back in the 1980’s, so it’s about due.

Also on the list is the Seawall at the Jefferson Memorial, and Rock Creek Park’s infrastructure, as well as a bunch of money for the C&O Canal in Georgetown.

Monumental, The Features

Monumental: Titanic Memorial

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘spiggycat’

In 1931, Helen Herron Taft, the widow of President Taft, unveiled the grey granite statue overlooking the Potomac just about where the Kennedy Center stands today. The statue now stands down on the Washington Channel near Fort Lesley McNair in Southwest. Just to the south of the Waterfront became the home for the Titanic Memorial.

The Memorial is dedicated to the men aboard the Titanic who gave their spots in lifeboats to women and children and perished in the shipwreck in the North Atlantic. Scribed at the bottom is the dedication, the kind of thing you wouldn’t see on a modern monument, from the “Women of America.”

The monument itself is pretty well hidden down in Southwest, and I ended up driving past it a couple times, and getting lost more than once. Park at the roundabout near the Harbor Police Office on Water Street, and there’s a footpath to the south of the roundabout. Take it down two blocks past O Street down to the memorial. Looks like a great place to ride your bike down to. With the weather today being off-the-charts-for-Awesome, and better expected for the Weekend, take a bike on out to the Monument’s location in Southwest. It’s worth a trip.

Essential DC, Monumental, The Features, The Great Outdoors

Monumental: Cherry Blossoms


On March 26, 1912, probably the most famous ‘monument’ in the Washington DC area arrived from Japan: 3,020 cherry trees.

Year after year, these trees bloom in a beautiful display that gives us a sure-fire sign that spring is upon us. It’s also the time of the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival and probably brings the biggest influx of tourists for the year.

And, by far, the blooms give the city a photogenic quality that never gets old.

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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

Foggy Bottom, History, Monumental, The Features

Monumental: The American Meridian

American Meridian

Longitude is probably one of the most important scientific solutions of the modern era. It was easy to work off a set of common star charts and figure out how far north or south of the equator you were. Take a couple readings at sunrise, midday and sunset, chart a few stars, and wham there you are. We’ve been measuring that for millenia now. But Longitude was a lot harder. By the early 18th century, it had become such a problem for sea-faring nations that the King of England set forth a prize to determine the best way of calculating it. Enter John Harrison and his clocks. If you can keep accurate enough time, you can determine your longitude. It took decades of engineering, and the promise of riches (in some cases denied, read Dava Sobel’s Longitude, which is a fascinating historiography of the events surrounding the prize.)

The thing about Longitude that is most interesting is that there’s no clear and obvious choice for a prime meridian, the way there is with latitude and the Equator. Thus, common standards of practice evolved, with prime meridians, and associated maps, appearing at Greenwich, Paris, Rome, and various other European centers. Each set of charts was keyed to use with a specific set of longitudes, with no common standard. Thus it was that Thomas Jefferson set the first American Meridian through the center of the Executive Mansion in 1793. This meridian would stay in place through 1850 when it was moved west 8 blocks to 24th Street at the site of the Naval Observatory (now the grounds of the US Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery at 24th and D Streets) where it remained the American line of demarcation and measurement until 1884 when we moved to the Greenwich Standard by International Treaty.

But why have an American Meridian when Greenwich’s would do? The only good way to measure longitude was to take a clock, synchronized from Greenwich’s observatory master clock, and sail it across the Atlantic. Sure, that sounds pretty straight forward, but clocks, even as late as the early 19th century were not anything we’d considerate accurate to the second, not to mention had all kinds of mechanical issues even if you sailed them across the sea. Not to mention the fact that two journeys could come up with two totally different longitudes for the final result. Thus, setting a local point of demarcation allowed for a better continuity of result. Continue reading

Monumental, The Features

Monumental: Dumbarton Bridge

courtesy of kimberlyfaye

courtesy of kimberlyfaye

Tatonka!  Tatonka!  Tatonka! Tatonka!  This week’s Monumental goes by the aliases of the Buffalo Bridge and the Q Street Bridge, however the correct DC nomenclature is the Dumbarton Bridge.  Constructed between 1914 and 1915, the bridge spans high above Rock Creek Park and connects Georgetown to Dupont Circle.  However, bridging these two DC neighborhoods turned out to be easier said than done. Continue reading

Monumental, The Features

Monumental: John Ericsson Navigation Memorial

Ericsson Memorial West Side

John Ericsson, a Swedish inventor, has a beautiful monument just south of the Lincoln Memorial on the median near the intersection of Ohio Drive SW and Independence Avenue SW. The beautiful pink granite statue was placed on its current location in 1927, at a cost of $60,000. $35,000 of that was federal funds, as voted in by the 1916 Congress, and the other $25,000 was raised through Swedish-American funds.

So, why was Ericsson so important? He invented the screw propellor for ships, allowing vessels to propel themselves through the water efficiently using a steam-driven engine. His dual-propeller design is the father of the propulsion system for just about every naval ship in the water today.

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Monumental, The Features

Monumental: Nathanael Greene

Looking Up at Nathanael

In the center of Stanton Square in Northeast, stands Revolutionary War Hero and native son of Rhode Island Nathanael Greene. His controversial advice (including burning New York City to the ground as part of a retreat in 1776, which, to me, sounds like the wisdom of the sages) won him favor with General Washington, and his management of the supply chain of the Continental Army won him the post of Quartermaster General. Before the end of the War he’d serve as the head of West Point, and then Commander of the Southern Army.

Greene would lead the American Retreat across the Dan River, forcing General Cornwallis to make mistakes as he chased the retreating light horse. Greene’s beleaguered force would win the race to the Dan, taking all the boats across the river, leaving none for Cornwallis, and the American forces escaped into Virginia. Some say that Greene was second only to Washington himself in military ability and prowess, and did more for the Continental Army than many others who would go on to claim greater fame. Continue reading

Monumental, The Features, The Hill

Monumental: James Abram Garfield

James A Garfield and the Capitol

You know how you have a favorite president growing up? Like, you get assigned the guy, knowing he’s not one of the big five, but he turns out to be interesting in his own right? Meet mine, James Abram Garfield. I think it was in Mrs. Franti’s third-grade class that we all had to do mini-reports, and I drew James A. Garfield from the hat.

I was totally bummed, but it worked out pretty well in the end. He wasn’t Thomas Jefferson, or Ulysses S. Grant, or even Richard Nixon. Who was this guy?!

James A. Garfield was a general in the Union Army in the Civil War, hailing from just outside of Cleveland, Ohio. He would, during and after the conclusion of the Civil War, serve as the Congressman from Ohio’s 19th District. On the 36th ballot, in 1880, he became the Republican Nominee for President of the United States. The internecine rivalry between the “Half-Breeds” and the “Stalwarts” lead to a controversial convention. The Half-Breeds, hoping to rid the Government of the patronage system that had developed, were pulling for Senator James Blaine, while the Stalwarts were pushing former President Ulysses S. Grant. Garfield would be the compromise candidate, and his Vice President was Chester A. Arthur, a Stalwart. Continue reading

Monumental, The Features

Monumental: Daniel Webster

Diorama Close-up 8

The statue of Daniel Webster that stands next to the Embassy of the Philippines on Massachusetts Avenue is largely ordinary. It’s a 12-foot bronze in the classical revival style, a stern and somber great man with his cape over his shoulder. The Gaetano Trentanove bronze was presented to the United States by Mr. Stilson Hutchins, then founding publisher of the Washington Post. The Congress in 1898 would approve a $4,000 expense for the creation of a pedestal for the statue, and that’s what I found most interesting about the Webster Memorial.

Two bas-relief dioramas (okay, how many of you just flashed on the shoebox dioramas you made as kids? All of you? Rock on!) mark the east and west sides of the pedestal and are exquisite bronze representations of two seminal events in the career of Daniel Webster. Who’s Daniel Webster, you ask? It’s okay, I didn’t remember him either. He was Secretary of State for Presidents Harrison, Tyler and Fillmore, serving two separate stints at the head of Foggy Bottom, from 1841-1843 and again from 1850-1852. He was also a Senator from Massachusetts on two occasions, and a member of the House of Representatives from New Hampshire. He was a member of the Whig Party for much of his career, having followed Henry Clay and others in its creation in opposition to President Andrew Jackson and the Democrats. Continue reading

Downtown, Essential DC, History, Monumental

Monumental: U.S. Navy Memorial


Architect Pierre L’Enfant envisioned a memorial in the capital to “celebrate the first rise of the Navy and consecrate its progress and achievements.” However, it never took shape until 1980 when Rear Admiral William Thompson, USN (Ret.) received blessing from Congress to construct a Navy Memorial on public land.

The Memorial Foundation, formed in 1977 by Admiral Arleigh Burke and other Navy colleagues, selected Market Square – across the street from the National Archives – as the site of the memorial. Construction started in 1985 and was officially dedicated on October 13, 1987, the 212th birthday of the US Navy.

There are two parts to the Navy Memorial, the public plaza and the Naval Heritage Center, which occupies one of the two buildings that flank the memorial. Just inside the entrance is a sculpture by Stanley Bleifeld, The Homecoming. The Center caters to building personal links between naval service personnel, both veterans and active-duty, and their families.

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Monumental: Tomáš Masaryk

Masaryk 6

Tomáš Masaryk stands on Massachusetts Avenue across from the Embassy of Luxembourg, atop a granite slab. The monument is a gift from the Czech Republic, and was placed on its site in 2003, making it one of the newer monuments in the city. Masaryk was the first President of Czechoslovakia after World War I, when it broke from from the remnants of the defeated Austria-Hungary. This process was far from simple, but Masaryk was the cause’s champion, travelling Europe and the United States to convince the powers that be that the Czech and Slovak people needed their own state.

He was finally successful in late 1918, and he delivered a speech at the steps of Independence Hall in Philadelphia arguing for a free nation for those in central Europe. What would result would be Czechoslovakia, a nation that would then elect Masaryk to be their president. He would serve in that office, re-elected twice, until 1935. Continue reading

Downtown, Monumental

Monumental: Casimir Pulaski

Pulaski in the Snow
Casimir Pulaski in the Snow by tbridge

On the Eastern side of Freedom Plaza stands a horse-mounted General, with one hoof raised. It’s Casimir Pulaski, the Polish-born Father of the American Cavalry, a Revolutionary War Hero. I only mention the one hoof in the air because of the old “How many raised hoofs determines how the historical figure died,” trope. It’s totally not an accurate rule. Sure it works some of the time, but it’s a bad guide more than it is a good one. Sure, it works better at Gettysburg, just up the road, but not in DC.

Casimir Pulaski, a native of Poland, came to the Colonies after his own failed revolution against the Russians failed. His land seized, his army gone, he left in disgrace, but with a brilliant military mind. Pulaski’s arrogance, and lack of command of the English that was common on the battlefield made him a difficult fit in the Continental Army. Through the intervention of General Washington, Pulaski was made Commander of the Horse, and eventually General of an independent horse corps that fought in the Siege of Charleston and the Battle of Savannah.

Pulaski was fatally wounded in an attempt to retake Savannah from British forces, shot in the groin by grapeshot. Thus, his statue, according to the horse code, should have both front hooves raised.


Monumental: Martin Luther

Martin Luther

Martin Luther, photo by Tiffany Bridge

Happy Reformation Day, all.  What? You didn’t know that October 31, 1517 was the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenburg Church door? If you were paying any attention at all in your high school European History class, you know that the resulting excommunications, politically motivated breaks with the Catholic Church disguised as religious conversions, and wars broke the political power of the Vatican, and eventually gave us the Europe we see on the map today. As a result, generations of history students get to inscribe little notes in the margins of their textbooks about the axiomatic truths of European History: “Remember, France Hates Germany. And Britain Hates Everyone.”  Not to mention giving rise to the theological debates I regularly had until 3 AM in college. (What? You didn’t stay up all night debating theology in college?)

There’s a statue of ol’ Marty right in downtown DC. It belongs to the Luther Place Memorial Church on Thomas Circle. It’s less fussy than most of the other outdoor statuary in town, befitting a guy of Luther’s tastes. The base of the statue is a simple, three-tiered pillar with “MARTIN LUTHER” inscribed in block lettering. No famous quotes, no ornamentation.  It was dedicated in 1884, in commemoration of his 400th birthday.  According to the New York Times archive from 1883, the bronze statue cost $4,500, and another $2,500 for the base, shipping, and “incidentals.”

I took several photos of the statue this week, but of course it was cloudy and my little point-and-shoot was having trouble with the light. Better photos are available from some of our Flickr pool contributors:

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