There are three types of monument in monumental Washington: Temples, Tombs and Talls.
All monuments with pediments, with domed and fluted columns--the Jefferson, for instance--qualify as Temples.
All monuments that chill, that cry out for mourning-- the Vietnam, for example--belong among the Tombs. Not all of these are graves. But all suggest, through heavy stones, cut dates and inscriptions, the presence of the dead.
The obelisk to George Washington is the tallest of the Talls.
Most Washington memorials are made of bronze and marble, are vaguely Greco-Roman, are set in tended glades. But all, or nearly all, of them partake of these three prototypes. And some of the most beautiful--the Lincoln, for example--are all these things at once.
Lincoln's body may lie elsewhere, but his loss is felt so sharply that his grand memorial must be counted as a Tomb. But the Lincoln is a Temple, too, at once a monument to martyrdom and a noble, columned shrine. It also is a Tall. Its broad stairs force a climb. Its columns and high pedestal likewise stress ascent.
Countless are the symbols in monumental Washington that celebrate the Tall. Flagpoles do so, surely, and Washington is full of them. One stands above the White House, others make a circle around the Washington Monument. And one is always being raised, on a bronze Iwo Jima, by Felix W. de Weldon's enormous bronze marines. Like wings and winged victories, fireworks and fountains, flying flags suggest a realm higher than the earthly.
So, by implication, do the Superman-like capes worn by General Grant's cavalry in Henry Merwin Shrady's extraordinary sculpture group at the foot of Capitol Hill. Horatio Greenough's half- Roman and half-naked statue of George Washington, carved in 1840, points his right index finger upward.
The sky belongs to heroes. All niches, domes and arches --those suggestions of domed heavens--partake of the Tall. Pedestals, stairs, bell towers, obelisks and spires, and swords upraised in triumph, also stand for elevation.
So does Lyndon Johnson's mighty, rough-hewn boulder standing in its grove on the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Its heritage is ancient. It is surely a descendant of the megaliths of Stonehenge. Like those 5,000- year-old standing stones, aligned to the heavens, Johnson's macho monument links the earthly to the sky.
So do the sea gulls hovering above Ernesto Begni del Piatta's Navy-Marine Memorial on the George Washington Memorial Parkway. The statue of Victory on Daniel Chester French's First Division Monument, immediately south of the Old Exeuctive Office Building, also spreads broad wings. Standing there atop her column f pink granite, she personifies the Tall. Her arms are raised in triumph, and she holds aloft a standard whose pole is tipped, of course, by eagle's wings.
A sense of speed and flow, of more-than-human power, of mounting onto privilege-- all of this is gathered in the image of the horse. Generals Nathanael Greene (in Stanton Square), George B. McClellan (at Connecticut Avenue and Columbia Road NW), William Tecumseh Sherman (at Pennsylvania Avenue and 15th Street NW), Philip Kearney (in Arlington Cemetery), John A, Logan (in Logan Circle), James B. McPherson (in McPherson Square), George H. Thomas (in Thomas Circle), Winfield Scott (in Scott Circle) and Philip H. Sheridan (in Sheridan Circle), all ride bronze steeds. Heroes merit horses. All equestrian statues qualify as Talls.
Scores of public buildings here--with fluted columns, pediments and broad entrance stairs--strive to qualify as Temples. The Supreme Court, the National Gallery's West Building, Constitution Hall, the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the National Archives, all affect the Temple look--fittingly perhaps, for they enshrine the semi-holy, the dignity of law, the beauties of the muses, the country's sacred texts. But many other buildings here, wholly secular in nature--the Interior Department Building, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, banks, stores, pompous houses--assume columned dress. Though we Americans contend we've divorced church and state, our Temple-ridden capital pretends to be a village built for heathen gods.
The three categories aren't strict; they are almost always crossed. Most Temples in this city have Tall qualities about them. They are buildings that point skyward. The domed Capitol itself is part Temple and part Tall. The austere white crosses placed in rows on Arlington's green lawns are Tombs and little Talls. John F. Kennedy's earthbound grave also is allied--by its eternal flame--to the spirit of the Tall. Tombs and Temples also blend. The Van Ness Mausoleum, in Oak Hill Cemetery, 30th and R Streets NW, is an 1825 version of the Temple of Vesta, Rome.
Washington's memorials, like those of other lands and of other ages, are memory machines. While honoring the dead, they daily serve the living. Their mood is retrospective. They were constructed to instruct.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington soars as it oppresses. It is there to make us think. It is one of the strongest of Washington's memorials. The Adams Monument is another. It was erected in 1890 for Henry Adams' wife Clover, a suicide. Augustus Saint-Gaudens' awesome enigmatic figure seated there, permanently grieving in her Rock Creek Cemetery glade, does, and does most beautifully, what monuments are raised to do: She stands guard at the boundary between death and life.
We know, from excavations at Shanidar, Iraq, that Neanderthals interred their dead with bouquets of wild flowers. They must have worshipped, too. And no doubt, when victorious, they raised their arms in triumph as athletes still do. Memorials draw from prototypes as old as homo sapiens, or many thousands of years older.
Temples, Tombs and Talls --we need all three at once. That may partially explain the near-inchoate anger engendered by the look of the new Vietnam Memorial. Set there in its landscaped grove, it spreads sharp wings of blackness. It is a sort of Temple, and a sort of Tomb. But Vietnam was no victory. It is not its lack of macho, nor its partly-Eastern spirit, that so galls its opponents. They call for things that rise, for flags, flagpoles and statues, because the Vietnam Memorial, magnificent in other ways, is inadequately tall.