Richard Nixon, set in stone in Reston


A granite wall bearing President Nixon's name at the USGS National Center in Reston. (U.S. Geological Survey)
John Kelly
Columnist March 30, 2013

Inside the U.S. Geological Survey building in Reston, near the front entrance, there is a large stone box with Richard Nixon’s name in big letters. It looks like it was the cornerstone or a time capsule. Could you look into whether there is anything inside it?

Michael T. Jarvis, Purcellville

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

Answer Man’s X-ray vision has been on the fritz lately, so he contacted the USGS media department, who told him it is a dedicatory stone. A large block of mottled granite is inscribed:

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

RICHARD M. NIXON

PRESIDENT

1972

One could be forgiven for thinking the stone contains something, possibly Nixon himself, biding his time like a frozen mammoth. But no, the 37th president is safely buried in Yorba Linda, Calif., near the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.

Nor does the stone contain anything else. It is just a massive chunk of granite.

“We have no evidence to suggest that a time capsule was placed in the USGS National Center,” the Survey’s Diane Noserale wrote to Answer Man in an e-mail. “On the other hand, the inscribed stone, a 3.5-billion-year-old granite from central Minnesota, is itself a time capsule. It is among the oldest known rocks in North America. About one-million tons of this stone line the lobby and other walls throughout this building.”

The USGS was founded in 1879 to examine and classify “the geological structure, mineral resources and products of the national domain.” Since then, it’s been involved in everything from prospecting for uranium to tracking earthquakes.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the move to the new building, which was designed by Chicago’s Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. When the building opened in 1973, the USGS was scattered in more than two-dozen locations, from Beltsville to Alexandria.

The move “was very important for us,” said Jim Devine, a USGS seismologist who was at the building’s dedication. “It was important for Reston, too.” (The keynote speaker that day was not Nixon, but Interior Secretary Rogers C.B. Morton.)

Reston was a lot less developed then, Jim said. There weren’t too many restaurants, but employees could get to them quickly.

“When we first moved out here, you could get to a restaurant in 15 minutes, have lunch and get back without using too much time,” Jim said. “Over the years, it became much too difficult. Now virtually no one leaves for lunch.”

I enjoyed your column about the C&O Canal boat rides [March 24]. My Great Aunt Nettie used to treat my cousins and me to rides when we were kids. She also did this for our parents when they were kids. I have a photo of her with my mother and two aunts sitting on the back of the barge and estimate the date to be about 1918. Could you find some information about the rides before 1942?

Kathleen S. Calder, Springfield

I can recall taking the canal boat from the 30th Street area in 1958. I am not sure exactly how far we went, but I believe it was beyond Seneca. The trip took several hours. A lot of that area was rural, and some boys were swimming in the canal and swinging on a vine and the captain of the boat called out to them that there was no swimming in the canal. They answered back, “The heck there ain’t.” There were no guides in costume or anything like that. Does anyone recall this excursion?

Carolyn Jackson, Gaithersburg

“We’ve had a lot of trouble tying down specific names [of boats] and exactly where they were operated and when,” said Karen Gray, a volunteer librarian with the C&O Canal National Historical Park. The canal was still operating in 1918, so any number of boats could have plied its waters when Kathleen’s mother took one. There was also a steam-powered excursion boat, the Louise, that ran before the canal closed to commercial traffic in 1924.

Karen isn’t sure what to make of Carolyn’s memory. She said she hasn’t seen any documentation suggesting that boats went all the way from Georgetown to Seneca in 1958. Most trips were much shorter.

Incidentally, Karen is collecting memories of trips taken on the canal. If you are among those who went on any of the boats that carried tourists, drop her a line at karen_gray@partner.nps.gov.

Send your questions about the Washington area to answerman@washpost.com. To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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