Theodore Roosevelt memorial’s repairs have hit obstacles

John Kelly
Columnist August 25, 2012

My wife and I recently ventured out to Theodore Roosevelt Island, a memorial we had never visited. Having crossed the footbridge and taken in a splendid view of Georgetown, we made our way into the woods toward the memorial. When we arrived we found a beautiful tribute to Mr. Roosevelt . . . except that the water that’s meant to be part of the memorial had been turned off. This severely diminished the site. Why would the government turn off the water here? Is this temporary?

— Gregory Pugliese, Greenbelt

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

Everything is temporary, Gregory. Even planet Earth, if you extend the calendar out far enough.

In the case of the Roosevelt Memorial, the infrastructure for the waterworks, like so much infrastructure around here, is in poor shape. It dates to the 1960s and the various pumps and motors have been on the fritz. The lining in the moats has cracked in some places.


The fountains at the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial on Roosevelt Island have been turned off since last year for renovation. Last year's earthquake didn't help. (John Kelly/THE WASHINGTON POST)

The National Park Service decided in 2011 to rehabilitate the entire system. A contractor was selected. Last summer, the moats were drained. Video cameras were sent down the pipes to determine which ones needed replacement and which could be relined in situ.

It was supposed to be about a four-month job, said Matt Virta, the Park Service’s cultural resources program manager for the George Washington Memorial Parkway. But the work turned out to be more involved than expected. Then the earthquake hit, complicating things further.

“That seems to have done some damage,” Matt said.

The work wasn’t finished last summer. And it’s unlikely to be completed before the fountains at Roosevelt Island are turned off in the fall. The Park Service is keeping its fingers crossed that the work will be done and the waterworks turned back on in the summer of 2013.

The entire 90-acre island is a monument to the 26th president. It was once the stomping ground of Nacotchtank Indians, the tribe that gave us the word “Anacostia.” The island’s various names have included Anacostine Island, Analostan Island and Mason’s Island.

In the late 18th century, George Mason’s son, John, lived there in one of the country’s first neoclassical houses. Only the foundations of that mansion remain.

The centerpiece of the monument is a truly monumental, 17-foot-high statue of Theodore Roosevelt by Paul Manship. It’s flanked by monoliths engraved with Teddy’s views on nature, mankind, youth and the state.

He is curiously silent on his poor performance in the President’s Race at Nationals Park.

More on “Black Aggie”

The enigmatic statue in a courtyard off Lafayette Square featured last week in this column has many fans, who remember it from its original location atop the Agnus family grave in Druid Hill Cemetery near Baltimore.

When Joan Cox Lancos grew up in Pikesville she would often ride her bike over to the cemetery, where her family has a large plot.

“Making a stop to see Black Aggie was part of the ritual,” Joan wrote. “She was located in a distant corner, but people, particularly teens older than myself, always knew where to find her. She seemed sad but not really scary, except when she was wearing the makeup applied by mischief makers.”

Gerald P. Wolf of Silver Spring remembers that in the 1950s it was a fraternity prank to blindfold pledges and dump them at the foot of the statue.

G. Robert Reese of Timonium remembers another tradition: “If you took your girlfriend after a movie date or a dance to the cemetery and got her to sit on Aggie’s lap, she had to reward you with a good night kiss.”

Robert confessed that in at least one instance it worked for him.

Baltimoreans refer to Black Aggie as a female, but the statue on which it’s based, by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, was meant to be androgynous. Black Aggie was an unauthorized (and, to Answer Man’s eyes, somewhat crude) copy of Saint-Gaudens’s famed work.

The original sits in Rock Creek Cemetery at the grave of Clover Adams. There is an authorized copy on the second floor of the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum. It was cast in 1969 from molds taken directly from the original.

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

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