‘Surrender Dorothy’ painted on a Beltway overpass — what’s the story?

John Kelly
Columnist June 24, 2011

As I traveled on the Beltway in the early ’70s near the Mormon Temple in Kensington, I was always amused by one re-occurring sight. On an overpass just as the temple comes into view, someone would always spray paints in big letters “Surrender Dorothy.” The line was from “The Wizard of Oz,” and I’m fairly sure it reflected the graffiti artist’s impression that the temple was reminiscent of the spires that Dorothy and company saw as they approached the Emerald City and their subsequent fear when the witch wrote the phrase in the sky. While I recognize that it was illegal to do that, I marveled at the writer’s ability to write it so boldly as to be seen from the highway. I’ve often wondered if anyone knew the story behind it or knew who the person was.

Christine Mulligan, Germantown

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

First, allow Answer Man to state that he does not condone breaking the law, especially breaking the law in such a dangerous way. That graffito (singular of graffiti) was on a CSX railway bridge, meaning the perpetrator(s) risked not just falling onto the Beltway below but being flattened by a passing freight train.

Answer Man could find no reference to when it first went up. The temple was dedicated in November 1974, and certainly by the early 1980s “Surrender Dorothy” was a common sight for Beltway drivers — and an irritant for state highway workers, who would periodically be brought in to remove what was seen as a distraction to drivers.

In 2001, state highway spokesman David Buck told Mormon News, “We’ve fought an uphill battle for years with people putting graffiti on that bridge.” Maintenance crews that year shut down two lanes of traffic for an hour to scrub away yellow spray paint. (In that article, a temple administrator said he found the graffito amusing, although Answer Man figures many Mormons probably don’t like their religion being associated with witches and flying monkeys.)


A 1986 photo shows the Beltway overpass, close by the glistening spires of the Mormon Temple in Kensington, with the graffito. (United Press International)

If you happen to have any information about “Surrender Dorothy,” drop Answer Man a line at the address below.

A dirty business

Readers wanted to dish more dirt after last Sunday’s column on what happened to the material dug up for Metro’s tunnels. Some of it is at the National Zoo, said architect W. Kent Cooper.

In the late ’70s, his firm was designing the zoo’s Beaver Valley. “We created a rocky landscape, filled with contained sites for pools and visitor walkways, and we used artificial stonework to accomplish the end,” Kent wrote. Then they heard Metro had blasted out some big rocks while tunneling.

“It set our imagination rolling,” Kent wrote. Metro said they could have as many large chunks of granite as they could use. “If you look carefully at the rock work on the beaver side of the pedestrian pathway and know what you are looking for, you may be able to identify Metro rock from artificial rock work.”

Metro dirt also helps Greenbelt residents see the stars, at the city’s Observatory Hill. “Towering 30 feet over the surrounding landfill, it was the perfect place for our city observatory,” wrote Doug Love.

But some Metro dirt ended up doing more harm than good. Michael Alpers grew up in the District and spent many a day fishing and boating at Fletcher’s Cove on the Potomac. As close-in landfills got filled, some contractors looked for cheap, and illegal, ways to dispose of it. Michael said that in the 1970s dump trucks began showing up at Fletcher’s at night to surreptitiously offload tons of Metro dirt as well as dirt from the Potomac Interceptor sewer line. That changed the course of the Potomac, affecting currents and causing Fletcher’s Cove — notable for being a place Capt. John Smith stopped — to silt up.

“I used to be able to dive from the dock into 12 feet of water,” said Michael, 72. “Now the dock is sitting on a mud bar.”

The cove needs to be dredged, but there isn’t money in the Park Service budget to do that.

Send a Kid to Camp

We’re three weeks into our annual eight-week fundraising drive for Camp Moss Hollow, the summer camp for at-risk kids from the Washington area. So far, we’ve raised $125,959.38 toward our $500,000 goal. Have you taken the time to donate yet?

It’s easy: Go to www.washingtonpost.com/camp. Click where it says “Give Now,” and designate “Send a Kid to Camp” in the gift information.

You can also mail a check payable to “Send a Kid to Camp” to Send a Kid to Camp, P.O. Box 96237, Washington, DC 20090-6237.

Send your questions to answerman@washpost.com.

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