Several years ago, Alex Trebek supplied the "Jeopardy!" contestants with this "answer": The artist who sculpted the Abraham Lincoln figure in the Lincoln Memorial. They were not able to supply the "question," Who was Daniel Chester French?, but I was. As a docent at the Corcoran Gallery I had written a research paper on French, whose Lincoln is arguably the most famous work by an American sculptor.
All Washingtonians should know better. French's imposing works, scattered prominently around the city, constitute a pantheon of American heroes, both forgotten and unforgettable.
Across the street from the Corcoran (500 17th St. NW) is the soaring victory figure, high atop a graceful column dedicated in 1924 to the First Division of the American Expeditionary Force. Nearby, in the Ellipse, is the memorial fountain dedicated to the aforementioned forgotten heroes: Francis Davis Millet, an artist and a member of the District's Fine Arts Commission, and Maj. Archibald W. Butt, chief military adviser to presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. Both men went down on the Titanic after helping women and children to the lifeboats, though the memorial, assuming their fame would be everlasting, makes no mention of who the men were or how they died.
Then there's the more imposing fountain rising high above Dupont Circle, with the beautiful, allegorical figures raising up a crescent bowl, dedicated to Civil War hero Samuel Francis DuPont. And the instantly familiar Minute Man statue: the prototypical citizen soldier (after the original in Concord, Mass.) stands guard at the National Guard Building, 1 Massachusetts Ave. NW.
These and others are all pictured in the fabulous 1974 reference, "The Outdoor Sculpture of Washington, D.C., A Comprehensive Historical Guide" by James M. Goode, published by the Smithsonian Institution Press.
--Margaret E. Wagenheim,
Alexandria used to be a railroad town. Many Alexandrians worked at the huge rail yard on the north side, now the Potomac Yard development. Tracks crisscrossed downtown, heading to the waterfront and other industrial areas. Few landmarks remain from that era. Amtrak and VRE commuter trains stop at Alexandria's 1905 Union Station, and fast freights still thunder through town. But another relic is nearly unknown: the 1856 waterfront railroad tunnel.
Today, the Wilkes Street tunnel offers pedestrians and bikers a unique route to and from the waterfront. At one end is a residential section of Old Town. At the other end is Potomac View Park, with a playground, large open field and basketball court. The brick-and-sandstone tunnel gave the neighborhood its old nickname: "Tunnel Town."
The 170-foot tunnel, with an uncovered western portal that adds 120 feet, burrows under two blocks. In use until 1975, it let trains pass through a high bluff parallel to the river. On the waterfront were many now-vanished industrial customers. Among them was Smith & Perkins Locomotive Works, which made engines and cars for the tunnel's original owner, the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. The tunnel, 15 feet wide by 17 feet high, is well lit and paved (the tracks are gone). It can be a little wet after rain.
Getting there: Take King Street east through Old Town to Union Street at the waterfront. Turn right (south) and follow Union Street for three blocks. After you pass Wolfe Street, the tunnel is at mid-block on the right, just before the playground. Or turn right off King Street on South Royal Street. The tunnel entrance is next to the Safeway at Wilkes Street.
--Jim Sweeney, Alexandria
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