monumental

posted by catherine / February 13, 2005 /

earlier today, while tommy and i were waiting for kriston in front of the national gallery of art (i was off to the kersetz exhibit, they were headed to a lecture by ed ruscha), we noticed an utterly bizarre monument standing alone on a slab of concrete by 7th St and Pennsylvania Ave. it was a four-columned canopy, covering two grotesque, interwined fish; a wispy crane stood on top of the covering, and the columns were emblazed with one word on each of them: FAITH / TEMPERANCE / CHARITY / HOPE.

really, what the fuck? it was random. take a look at this photo.

so, this evening, i turned to the trusty internets to answer my freaky crane/dolphin/temperance monument question. turns out that it was actually a functioning fountain built by somebody named henry cogswell, a san francisco dentist who was disturbed by the alcoholic tendencies of soldiers returning from the civil war. he sponsored this particular d.c. monument, as well as 50 similar other ones across the country, in order to offer free drinking water to people in hopes that they'd take a sip from the fountain instead of heading to one of the nearby saloons. hmm. let's call him an optimist, shall we?

anyway, searching for information about the temperance monument led me to several pages about d.c. monuments in general, and i learned something important. and that something is that d.c. is an incredibly weird city with hundreds, if not thousands, of pointless monuments and memorials.

i had been vaguely aware of the scores and scores of random monuments and statues littering our fair city; for example, when i was training for the marathon i'd often run past the hains point "the awakening" statue. sometimes while grabbing lunch in dupont circle, i'll walk past the sonny bono memorial park. (yes, WE HAVE A SONNY BONO MEMORIAL PARK AND IT TOOK US AGES TO GET A NATIVE AMERICAN MUSEUM).

but scouring through various sites dedicated entirely to d.c. monuments, i'm finding some even stranger shit. for example: did you know this city has a monument (albeit a small statue) to Fala, one of FDR's dogs? or that little stone house on the corner of 15th and Constitution is called the Bulfinch Gatehouse, and it used to be there in order to monitor the then-heavily wooded Mall, where people would let their cattle graze? isn't it interesting that the boy scouts of america memorial prominently features a TOTALLY naked roman soldier teaching a young boy how to, um, hold a sword? and let's not forget the world's largest chair in anacostia and the plaque commemorating mary surratt, the first women executed by the US government for her alleged role in helping plan the assasination of lincoln.

truly fascinating stuff. forget valentine's day; i'm going to spend all of tomorrow stalking weird d.c. monuments.

other good resources: kitty tours monuments and DCist monuments features.

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