EVERYBODY calls Washington a city of monuments, but Alex Padro may be the only District resident who really knows just how true that is. Padro has spent the past three years searching out the city's monuments and the people and events they memorialize; he has found more than 750 of them, not including some 150 in Arlington Cemetery and nearby suburbs.
Padro, 36, a New York City native, fell in love with Washington when he first came here as a boy with his family. He kept bugging his parents to move here, and first chance he got he moved from the Big Apple to the Shaw community. The book publishing executive was delighted by all the memorials he discovered while strolling the streets, circles, squares and parks of our town, but grew frustrated over how hard it was to learn the stories behind many of them.
"I discovered that the last book on public sculpture in Washington went out of print over 20 years ago, and that nobody had ever surveyed the indoor memorials. I would call government offices to ask about a memorial in their lobby and be told 'Really? In this building? Jeez, I've worked here 20 years and never seen it.' " Gradually he realized he was writing a book, and the next thing he knew he was publishing it. The 960-page volume, "Washington's Monuments: A Guide to the Monuments and Memorials of the Nation's Capital," will be published in May as the premier offering of Monument Books.
Padro's standards are strict about what constitutes a memorial: The most prominent statue in Washington, the figure of Freedom atop the Capitol dome, didn't make the cut.
"Sometimes a statue is just a statue," he says. "To qualify as a monument or memorial, the sculpture must commemorate an individual or group or a significant event. 'Freedom' doesn't fit the bill, and neither do most funerary monuments or plaques noting where some famous person lived." On the other hand, his parameters necessarily include such curiosities as the bronze memorial to Maine lobstermen, on Water Street near Seventh Street SW, which was placed, as with much other odd local statuary, at the behest of a powerful congressman.
Padro tries not to play favorites--"There aren't any I don't like," he says--but admits to a couple. One is the Tripoli Monument, which he counts as the city's first, although it was moved to the grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis in 1860. The other is the Lincoln Memorial, where he doesn't go often because it moves him to tears.
The Tripoli Monument was commissioned by a group of naval officers in tribute to six of their fellows who fell in the Tripolitan War (1801-1805), our first war as an independent nation. Carved in Italy, it was installed at the Navy Yard in 1808 and was moved to the West Front of the Capitol in 1831 and thence to Annapolis.
Congress got into the memorial business in a big way in 1815, when it authorized the erection of monuments in what became Congressional Cemetery to every incumbent senator or representative who died and was buried here; in 1839, it voted to memorialize every federal legislator who died in office, wherever buried. The memorials were designed by Architect of the Capitol Benjamin Latrobe, and by the time the practice was abandoned in 1877 there were nearly 200 "Latrobe Cenotaphs." One more was added 95 years later to honor congressmen Hale Boggs and Nick Begich, killed in a 1972 Alaska plane crash.
The first statue to honor an individual was, not surprisingly, to be of George Washington, as authorized by Congress in 1783. But what with one thing and another what became the Washington Monument didn't get going for another 50-odd years. A bronze rendering of brother revolutionary Thomas Jefferson, on the other hand, was commissioned by Navy Lt. (later Captain) Uriah P. Levy and presented to Congress in 1834. It stood in the Capitol Rotunda until 1842 and on the White House lawn from 1847 to 1874, when it was finally formally accepted by Congress and moved back to the Capitol. Otherwise it would have gone to Jefferson's Monticello, which Levy had bought and restored.
Because they're so prominent, the perception is that Washington has a whole cavalry squadron of equestrian statues, but in fact there's barely a squad: Only 10 men on horseback loom over us. The oddest is of Gen. Winfield Scott (1786-1866) at Scott Circle, who is shown mounted on what plainly is a mare but has the private parts of a stallion. Scott, a hero of the War of 1812 and the Mexican War, did in fact ride a mare in battle. But Scott's family demanded that sculptor Henry Kirke Brown depict him on a stallion, so Brown added the necessary equipage before the hermaphroditic horse was cast from cannons captured in Mexico.
Following are a score or so of other notable but generally lesser-known memorials that Padro's research turned up:
SITES TO BEHOLD:
1. Orlando Letelier and Ronni Karpen Moffitt -- Sheridan Circle between 23rd Street and Massachusetts Avenue NW. Hundreds of people unknowingly walk by the two-foot-tall granite-and-bronze monument every day. Dogs think it's a fire hydrant. Few seem to remember the nearby car-bomb explosion on Sept. 21, 1976, that killed former Chilean diplomat Letelier, 44, and Moffitt, his assistant, at the Institute for Policy Studies. But someone remembers: Every year, on the anniversary of the assassination--for which five Chilean agents were convicted--someone defaces the monument with red paint.
2. Taras Shevchenko -- P Street between 22nd and 23rd streets NW. Ukrainian poet, artist and revolutionary Shevchenko (1814-1861) was born a serf, bound to the land as tightly as any slave. His artistic talent so impressed a group of painters that they auctioned a canvas to buy his freedom in 1838. Shevchenko's writings about uprisings, Ukrainian unity and mistreatment of serfs got him drafted into the Russian army in 1847, forbidden by the Tsar to write or paint, and finally exiled. Freed from military service in 1857, Shevchenko continued to fight for the abolition of serfdom, which came a week after his death. His 1841 book of poems, "Kobzar" ("The Bard") established his fame. Although Shevchenko was an ex-post-facto Hero of the Soviet Union, Ukrainian American groups were authorized to erect the memorial here in 1964 at the height of the Cold War. The massive bronze statue and relief panel are the work of sculptor Leo Mol and architect Radoslav Zuk.
3. Leslie Coffelt -- In front of Blair House, 1651 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. White House policeman Coffelt, 40, was on duty in front of Blair House on Nov. 1, 1950, when Puerto Rican nationalists attempted to assassinate President Harry S. Truman, who was staying there while the White House was being rehabilitated. The gunfire brought Truman to the window, and when it died away, Coffelt and one assassin lay dead and two other officers and the other assassin lay wounded. This modest plaque, dedicated by Truman, honors the sacrifice that all police officers are expected to stand ready to make.
4. Bernardo de Galvez -- On Virginia Avenue between 20th and 21st streets NW. As Spanish governor of Louisiana, Count Bernardo de Galvez (1746-1786) played an important role in the American Revolution. He supplied weapons to Continental Army forces in the Mississippi Valley and, after Spain declared war on Great Britain, led successful military campaigns that relieved pressure on the Americans by drawing off British forces. His victories at Baton Rouge, Mobile and Pensacola led to Spain's recovery of Florida. Galvez went on to become governor of Cuba and Viceroy of New Spain (now Mexico). Spanish King Juan Carlos I unveiled the bronze statue of our little-known ally in 1976, presenting it on behalf of the people of Spain.
5. Signers of the Declaration of Independence -- On an island in Constitution Gardens Lake on the Mall near 19th and Constitution NW. Aside from a famous few, the 56 signers of the Declaration were citizens well-known only in their own local communities: farmers, planters, physicians, politicians, merchants, lawyers, judges, even a writer and an ironmaster. Each is represented here, with his home town, occupation and a facsimile of his signature. The memorial, reached by a footbridge, was designed by the firm of Skidmore, Owings Merrill and was dedicated in 1984. The ducks and herons quacking and squawking on the pond are a bonus.
6. DC World War I Memorial -- On the south side of the Mall, north of Independence Avenue, between 17th Street and Daniel French Drive SW. More than 26,000 District citizens served in the Great War to End All Wars, which a generation later would be downgraded to World War I. This monument, paid for by citizen contributions, honors those who served and memorializes some 500 who died. Although this domed marble structure is large enough to accommodate an 80-piece band, it's located between stands of mature trees and goes largely unnoticed except by nearby strollers. The edifice by architect Frederick H. Brooke was dedicated on Armistice Day 1931.
7. Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz -- In the "poets' garden" of the Organization of American States (Pan American Union Building), near the northwest corner of 17th and Constitution NW. Mexican nun de la Cruz (1651-1695) was the most accomplished poet of Spanish colonial America. There has been a recent resurgence of interest in her poems, plays, religious writings and autobiographical essays, along with several new books about her. Her female characters are assertive, even her depiction of the Virgin Mary; "Sueno" ("Dream") and "Respuesta" ("Answer") are her best-known works. Her writings include bold explorations of her celebrated romance with the wife of a Mexican viceroy. A society of female Mexican journalists erected this very unusual modernist bronze bust by Beatriz Caro. Nearby are more conventional monuments to Nobel literary laureates Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral.
8. Original Patentees of the District Of Columbia -- Near the sidewalk on the 15th Street side of the Ellipse. The 18 original owners of the ground that became Washington (much of which they all but gave to the government) are listed on this modest monument placed in 1936 by the Daughters of the American Revolution. Sculptor Carl Mose depicted the area's principal 17th-century crops (corn and tobacco) and game animals (fish and turkeys).
9. Commodore John Barry -- 14th Street side of Franklin Square. John Barry (1745-1803), no known relation to our former mayor, ought to be as famous as John Paul Jones. The Irish-born patriot captured the first enemy vessel taken by Americans in the Revolutionary War and also served with the Continental Army, which accounts for the composite uniform on the congressionally commissioned statue. In 1780, Barry fought a pair of British vessels and defeated both. He also won the last naval engagement of the Revolution, and in 1794 achieved the rank of senior captain of the U.S. Navy. Nevertheless his statue is landlocked high and dry, while Jones's at 17th and Independence NW is only a few feet from the Tidal Basin. The retired destroyer DS (Display Ship) Barry, ex-DD 933, which is named for our hero, is permanently docked at Washington Navy Yard and is open to the public. The current hours are 10 to 4 weekdays.
10. Temperance Fountain -- Indiana Plaza, Indiana Avenue at Seventh Street NW. This fountain used to give thirsty passersby a free drink of Adam's ale, in hopes of keeping them out of nearby taverns, but the water has long since ceased to run. It was installed in 1884 at the expense of California dentist Henry Daniel Cogswell, who made a fortune in the Gold Rush and then spent much of it fighting demon rum. He began presenting fountains of his own design to any city that would take one. The fountain is supposed to represent the virtues of faith, hope and charity as well as temperance. The sculpture is so godawful that an embarrassed California senator once offered to replace it with a less grotesque monument at his own expense. But here it stays, having outlasted its critics.
11. Joseph James Darlington -- Near the northwest corner of Indiana Avenue at Fifth Street NW. With so many of the town's memorials fallen into desuetude, it's cheering to see the fresh gilding on the one that honors Darlington (1849-1920) at Judiciary Square. But Carl Paul Jennewein's 1922 statue, which was commissioned by a group of fellow lawyers, doesn't depict the notably pious and philanthropic Darlington. It's a voluptuous nude nymph, or Diana, with an attendant deer. Perhaps the idea was adopted at a well-lubricated bar association smoker. Anyway, the restoration is a credit to Save Outdoor Sculpture! (SOS!), a private/public conservation initiative based in Washington.
12. Metropolitan Police Memorial -- In front of the Municipal Center, 300 Indiana Ave. N.W. The installation of the National Police Memorial at nearby Judiciary Square may be partly responsible for the sad neglect of this 1941 fountain memorial to municipal police officers killed in war or in the line of duty. Architect John Joseph Early's trademark polychrome mosaics of fish and water plants is crumbling, and the fountain's base is damaged; a thick layer of algae obscures the basin decorations.
13. Union Station Memorials -- Crowds bustling through Union Station tend to brush past its five memorials there, including these tributes:
William Frederick Allen (in the West Hall). Allen (1846-1915) is the guy who brought chronological order out of chaos in this country. In 1881 Allen was tasked with making sense out of the hodgepodge of 50 existing railroad time standards, which caused not just irritating but deadly confusion as trains supposedly running at different times simultaneously found themselves on the same stretch of track. On Nov. 18, 1883, Allen's system of four east-west time zones went into effect, and since then everyone has known what time it is.
Asa Philip Randolph (baggage claim area). Randolph (1889-1979), founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, not only broke the union color line with his predominately black association, he made the country's leaders aware that black people had political as well as physical muscle. In 1941, by threatening to call a massive protest in Washington, Randolph persuaded President Franklin D. Roosevelt to ban discrimination in hiring by federal agencies and defense contractors. In 1963, Randolph, as the grand old man of the civil rights movement, led the March on Washington. This bronze statue by sculptor Ed Dwight, donated by the AFL-CIO in 1990, portrays Randolph holding his glasses in one hand. They are broken, as also, oddly, are the glasses on the bust of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall at Howard University Law School. Those who were privileged to know Randolph recall him as a courtly exemplar of the difference between pride and arrogance. Also of the difference between promise and performance: Members of his union made travel by Pullman car a wonderful experience.
Amtrak Employees Memorial (off Claytor Concourse near the baggage claim area). Those who pause at this handsome and dramatically lighted black marble wall may well be given pause. It memorializes the 67 Amtrak employees who have died in the line of duty so far. It's something to think about while rocketing northward on the Metroliner. Nicholas L. Burke was commissioned by the American Railway Guild to sculpt the four gilt reliefs of Amtrak workers, which were installed in 1996.
14. Jean Adrien Antoine Jules Jusserand -- Above the east side of Beach Drive south of Park Road in Rock Creek Park. For 22 years the French ambassador to the United States, Jusserand was a friend and confidant of presidents from Theodore Roosevelt to Warren G. Harding. Especially Roosevelt: They went bird-watching in the park and, it is said, skinny-dipping in the Potomac (except that Jusserand is supposed to always have kept his gloves on, so as not to be caught naked by any ladies who might stroll by). A noted bird-lover--he commissioned Folger Shakespeare Library architect Paul P. Cret to design a still-extant birdbath at Piney Branch Road and Farragut Street NW--Jusserand also won the 1917 Pulitzer Prize for history. Jusserand's memorial is a stone bench bearing only his surname; to get there, park at Pierce Mill and ask for directions.
15. Guglielmo Marconi -- On the west side of 16th Street at Lamont Street NW. As you're driving along 16th Street, put down that cell phone and give a salute to the guy who started it all. Wireless communications began with Marconi (1874-1937) in the 1890s and won him the Nobel Prize in physics for 1909. The monument consists of a gilded bronze bust of the inventor in front of a pylon with a nude gilded art deco woman on top.
16. Kahlil Gibran -- Normanstone Park, on Massachusetts Avenue NW near the south side of Observatory Circle. This gorgeous spot is known almost exclusively to strollers and joggers. Reflecting the serenity and grace of the Lebanese poet's works, this parklet features Gordon S. Kray's heroic bronze bust of Gibran (1883-1931), who came to America with his family in 1895. A path leads to an upper level with stone benches and a Moorish-style pool bordered by Cedars of Lebanon. Gibran's best-known work is "The Prophet," a runaway best-seller that's still in print
17. William Henry Scheutze -- Upper level, Meridian Hill/Malcolm X Park on 16th Street NW near Euclid Street. This sculpture honoring Scheutze (1853-1902), a U.S. Navy officer, holds shame of place as probably Washington's most abused public monument. The seated, toga-clad white marble figure, which sculptor Jose Clara titled "Serenidad," is anything but serene, having lost her nose, hand and other body parts. The major trashing took place when this was one of Washington's most notorious needle parks, but still continues with frequent expletives spray-painted across her breasts.
18. Clark Calvin Griffith -- North side of the main entrance to Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. Griffith (1869-1955) managed and later owned the old Washington Senators baseball team for 43 years and won our town's only World Series victory in 1924. He was a colorful character who persuaded President William Howard Taft to throw out the first ball of the season in 1912, establishing a tradition that continues to this day; now, of course, following the exit of the original Senators to Minnesota and then of the expansion Senators to Texas, the ceremony takes place elsewhere in this favored land. The free-standing memorial was moved in 1962 from demolished Griffith Stadium, now the site of Howard University Hospital. On the south side of the RFK entrance is a memorial to George Preston Marshall (1896-1969), who brought the Redskins football team to Washington from Boston in 1937. A notorious skinflint and an implacable racist, Marshall was the last National Football League owner to integrate his team, and then only when he was threatened with denial of the use of what was then the brand-new D.C. Stadium.
19. USS Maine (Cuban Friendship Urn) -- Ohio Drive in East Potomac Park, north of the Arland D. Williams span of the 14th Street Bridge, installed in 1998 near a parking lot next to the ramp from the bridge to the Dwight D. Eisenhower Parkway/I-395. The salvaged mast of the USS Maine at Arlington National Cemetery memorializes the 260 men lost in the 1898 explosion of the Maine in Havana harbor, and artifacts from the ship are at Washington Navy Yard. This urn, which the National Park Service lost for several years, waits in semi-obscurity for the healing of the breach between Cuba and the United States. It was presented to President Calvin Coolidge in 1928. The white marble monument was carved from a fragment of a USS Maine memorial in Havana harbor, which was destroyed by a hurricane. The sinking of the ship, which sparked the Spanish-American War, was recently shown to have been caused by a fire in a coal bunker abutting an ammunition magazine.
20. Alexander Robey "Boss" Shepherd -- On Shepherd Parkway, Blue Plains in Southwest. D.C. native Boss Shepherd (1835-1902) turned Washington from a muddy, filthy village into a modern city. He had the streets regraded, paved and lined with trees and installed vital water and sewer lines. He was accused of graft, which wasn't true, and of spending the city into bankruptcy, which was; it led Congress to seize control of the city. Shepherd was feted as a hero when he returned from exile in Mexico for an 1887 visit, and his statue was placed in front of the District Building in 1909. But after several moves it wound up in front of a public works department building, gazing at the police impoundment lot. Surely there's a place for it nearer the center of the town to whose development his role was so central.
The above is just a sampling of the interesting, odd or obscure memorials Padro found in his three-year search. There are hundreds more in his forthcoming book, enough to keep a dedicated sightseer busy for years. He has put together such an authoritative, lively and useful guide that we ought to reward him somehow. Perhaps a modest plaque by some remote roadside?
The Monument Books Web site is http://members.aol.com/monumentdc.
The Save Outdoor Sculpture! Web site is www.heritagepreservation.org; the phone number is 800/422-4612.