A couple of years ago, Michelle Goldchain, 26, was annoyed by all the D.C. haters living in the city. They’re the kind of people who complain that there’s nothing to do.
She knew that wasn’t true, that within blocks of every one of Metro’s 91 stations, there are countless stories to be told. Like why is it, she said, that Dupont Circle has no statute for Admiral Samuel Francis Du Pont, the hero of the Mexican and civil wars for whom it is named, though misspelled?
Goldchain has a tendency to make things when she feels things. Three years ago, she was despondent over the results of the election. So she dressed up a mannequin like Donald Trump, with a red MAGA cap, and stuck its head in a toilet painted red, white and blue.
Then, a couple of years ago, she was thinking how it’s important for women to see other women doing what they aspire to do. So she created a newsletter, Capital Women, and then a podcast interviewing prominent D.C. women.
And so, annoyed by the D.C. naysayers, she wrote a book: “DC by Metro: A History & Guide." Published recently by The History Press, the book contains 314 pages of brief descriptions on Metro landmarks, including Dupont Circle.
Goldchain’s mind tends to take leaps when you talk to her.
She was asked one night recently why she’d focused on history.
There were already lots of guides about bars and restaurants. And “I don’t know what the best bar is for brunch or where you can find the best mimosa,” she said. Though she is excited that Iron Age Korean Steak House is opening a restaurant in D.C. — “They cook it right in front of you and it is amazing. Best pork belly ever, and bulgogi.”
She’d also been annoyed that people didn’t know more about their city’s history. A cab driver once bragged to her that he was a 10th-generation Washingtonian, then mansplained that the District limits building heights because the city didn’t want anything to rise above the Washington Monument.
Goldchain, who used to be the editor of Curbed D.C., a local news site focused on the neighborhoods and architecture, knew that was wrong.
“It was because of The Cairo,” she said, referring to the 12-story Cairo apartment building, built in Dupont Circle in 1894. “People were really afraid,” she said. “They thought this is too high and it’s going to fall.”
Goldchain’s book is like talking to her, ranging from why the Pentagon is low and has its shape to why there’s a statue of a rooster named Roscoe near the Takoma Metro station.
As dusk descended around the Dupont Circle Metro station on a recent evening, Goldchain wandered by the ornate fountain nearby, as fascinated by what wasn’t there as by what was: panels depicting the sea, the stars and wind.
A statue of Du Pont once stood there too.
But the statue was panned by critics. “The Du Pont family was like, ‘No one likes this statue. We don’t even like this statue. Let’s get rid of it,'" she said.
The statue ended up in a park in Wilmington, Del. In its place, the family commissioned the fountain. The architect, Henry Bacon, Goldchain said, “was behind the design of the Lincoln Memorial. Awesome!” “The sculptor of the fountain was Daniel Chester French, the same guy behind the statue of Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial. Amazing!” (A spokeswoman for the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. says there’s no real explanation for why Dupont Circle isn’t spelled Du Pont except perhaps the fashion of orthography dropped the space and the capital "P" over time.)
Goldchain’s mind took another leap as she passed the white marble and brick Patterson Mansion. The architect, Stanford White, also designed the site of the Adams Memorial near the Fort Totten station, she said.
Historian Henry Adams commissioned that memorial in 1885, she said. “His wife committed suicide, and he wanted to find a way to memorialize her."
An application to place it on the national historic register said Adams wanted to “convey the acceptance of intellectuality, of the inevitable.”
“The way people spoke back then was so beautiful. What happened?” she wondered. “Now we just speak in emojis.”