Monumental: Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial

Photo courtesy of
‘The ultimate measure of a man…………’
courtesy of ‘LaTur’

On Sunday (UPDATE: now sometime in September or October), the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial will be dedicated. As this will be the first major memorial dedicated in the Mall area since the National World War II Memorial in 2004, I thought it would be interesting to review the monument and solicit our readers’ views. For those interested in going to the dedication, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation has a FAQ page on the dedication ceremony and a handy walking directions pamphlet.

To quickly sum up my opinion: excellent, and long overdue, idea for a memorial, but it is poorly executed. Let me explain. I’ll be slightly kinder than Courtland Milloy but not by much and in some areas less (BTW: props to you, sir, on the Star Wars reference! Makings of a Millennial this one has.). Continue reading


Monumental: Theodore Roosevelt Island

Photo courtesy of
‘Teddy waves from on high’
courtesy of ‘snapzdc’

Theodore Roosevelt Island may not have sandy beaches and palm trees, but this little island definitely has secrets.

First, you have to know it’s there. From the frenzied lane-changing above on the Roosevelt bridge, you’d never know that a nature preserve nearly 90 acres large lies below.

Scores of people zip past it daily in their cars on the George Washington Parkway, too, or on bike or foot on the Mount Vernon trail–only a single footbridge lets people across from near Rosslyn.

And when you do find and wander onto the island, all you see at first is trees. It’s a bit of a surprise when you come upon the hidden plaza, with a moat, fountains, and a 17’ statue of Teddy Roosevelt towering overhead.
Continue reading

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

Monumental, The Mall

Monumental: John Paul Jones

John Paul Jones

Where 17th Street dead-ends in Independence Avenue, just to the south of the World War II Memorial, stands John Paul Jones, atop a Marble Platform. The monument, built in 1912 as the first in Potomac Park, stands as the memorial to our first great Naval hero. While his remains lie in the chapel of the Naval Academy in Annapolis, this memorial to Captain Jones stands looking North toward the White House.

Jones was born John Paul, a Scotsman who emigrated to the Colonies around the start of the Revolutionary War. He served aboard British merchant ships prior to his arrival in the Colonies, and had been master and commander of the brig John, where his troubles began. By the time he arrived in Fredericksburg, he’d had to assume another name, John Paul Jones, to avoid hanging for the murder of two sailors under his command: one through flogging, one through a swordfight over wages.
Continue reading

All Politics is Local, Monumental, Penn Quarter, The District

Monumental: GAR Stephenson Memorial

Monumental: Stephenson GAR Monument

While the Grand Army of the Republic might seem like something out of a bad pulp science fiction story, it’s also something that’s fairly real to American History. The monument to it, and its founder, stand just off Pennsylvania Avenue in Penn Quarter. The Grand Army was a fraternal organization established in 1866 for retired soldiers of the Union Army, and stood in existence until 1956, when its last member died. It was super-ceded by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, founded in 1881 to preserve the mission of the original organization.

The GAR was one of the more powerful political organizations in the late 19th century, helping to establish Old Soldiers’ Homes, which would later become the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. In addition, their organization was partly responsible for establishing the Memorial Day Holiday at the end of May, as part of their Decoration Day campaign.

Continue reading