Most large sculptures, once they’ve been installed and dedicated, stay put. “Guns Into Plowshares” is not like most sculptures.
Created during the District’s murderous 1990s by Esther Augsburger and her son Michael, the work of art is a quite literal interpretation of the Bible verse that reads, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
The four-ton, 16-foot-high sculpture is the blade of a massive plow encrusted with thousands of actual guns taken off city streets during a no-questions-asked gun-buyback program funded in 1994 by heavyweight boxing champion Riddick Bowe, who donated $100 per firearm.
Since then, “Guns Into Plowshares” has moved nearly as much as an Alexander Calder mobile. It was originally installed on D Street NW, outside the D.C. police department’s headquarters and near Judiciary Square. When that area was renovated in 2008, the sculpture was moved to Blue Plains, where for three years it sat forlornly on its side in a weed-strewn lot.
In 2011, it was set upright on a concrete pad outside the police department’s new evidence control facility nearby. Earlier this year, it disappeared.
“I’ve lost many nights’ sleep over it after it was moved out,” Esther told me.
Esther is sleeping better. “Guns Into Plowshares” is at a small airport just outside Harrisonburg, Va., where it is being refurbished before it is temporarily installed at Eastern Mennonite University. Esther is an alum of the Harrisonburg school, and her husband, Myron, served as president when it was Eastern Mennonite College & Seminary. The couple live nearby.
The university is celebrating its centennial, and later this month “Guns Into Plowshares” will be installed on the campus. The plan is to display it there for two or three years and then move it back to its original location outside the D.C. police department’s headquarters.
Aquita Brown, a police spokeswoman, wrote in an email: “The sculpture represents a challenging time in Washington when violence and disorder were having a severe impact on the city and those who lived and worked here. It took many years and the tireless efforts of officers, community members, and city leaders working together to build a safer, stronger D.C. Eventually having the artwork return to MPD Headquarters would allow it to serve as an important visual reminder that while we have made great strides, we remain committed to removing illegal firearms from our neighborhoods and further reducing violent crime.”
Esther is 86. She hopes to be around when “Guns Into Plowshares” is moved back. Her son Michael died in April of cancer. The renovation will include a plaque in his memory.
“I know he would want it back in Washington,” Esther said. “That’s where we made it for. It needs to be in Washington and not in a small town like Harrisonburg.”
Crime is down. Is the sculpture’s message still important?
“I think it is,” Esther said. “I think it is as long as we have the freedom for anybody to buy a gun. It just doesn’t seem right.”
I’d heard that the sculpture was in poor shape, with some of the (disabled) guns coming loose and falling off.
Not a problem.
“I happen to have a few of the guns left over,” Esther said. “I have some to fill that gap.”
A correction to my column last week about the International Latitude Observatory in Gaithersburg, Md.: It’s not open on Sundays, but Tuesday through Saturday.
Speaking of the observatory, Alan McCusker of Coalport, Pa., wrote in to say he was part of the team that researched and restored the building in 1989.
“We found that the steel rails that the roof rides on were made in Pittsburgh at Jones and Laughlin,” Alan wrote. His father used to work there.
“We also found a vault that was used to hold film,” Alan wrote. “Early film was very flammable so the vault was made of concrete with an iron door, buried about four feet underground. When we dug it up we were disappointed that it was empty except for some mud.”
When they covered the vault again, they inserted a sealed five-gallon plastic bucket into which they’d placed all the paperwork that they had on the building. Wrote Alan: “I had just renewed my driver’s license so I placed my old one, along with several newly minted coins, into the bucket so that the next person that digs it up will at least have something interesting to look at.”
These area high schools are reuniting soon:
●George Mason High Class of 1967: Oct. 6-8. Email Rose Daughety at firstname.lastname@example.org.
●George Washington High (Alexandria, Va.) Class of 1967: — Oct. 21. Contact Mary Ellen Woodley Johnson (email@example.com) or Jane Coleman Foster (firstname.lastname@example.org).
●Walt Whitman High Class of 1967: Oct. 9. Email email@example.com.
●Yorktown High Class of 1987: Oct. 7. Email Andrea Shore at yorktownHS1987@aol.com.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.