(October 8, 2019)
It being our last DC Tourist day, it was only fitting that we finish the “mystery” of the Capitol Stones. Our day three DC excursion included hiking to the plain sight “storage” of the U.S. Capitol building’s original stones at Rock Creek National Park. When we wandered over and through the discarded (I mean stored) 200 year old sandstone blocks (that were removed in 1958), the columns of the original East Façade of the Capitol building were demonstratively missing. Never fear. We found them, but it required a visit to the National Arboretum, dedicated in 1927 and maintained by the US Department of Agriculture’s, Agricultural Research Service. The National Arboretum is a 446 acre spread, with 9.5 miles of winding roadway, in the middle of what is now an industrial area. It is replete with a unique assortment of “green growey stuff”. Here you will find a 30 acre Grove of State Trees, from each of the 50 states (a “treasure hunt” for another day), just about every conifer tree on the planet, the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum (with over 300 specimens, one of which from 1625), the largest herb garden in the United States, perennial gardens, and of course the National Capitol Columns. The Arboretum is an oasis of greenery in a sea of small weathered homes, cement, iron and brick. In fact, an abandoned brick factory, The United Brick Corporation, flanks the Arboretum grounds, and also bears a visit for another time. As we were visiting in October, I imagine the spring time would be spectacular, and during the winter, with a bit of snow, one could enjoy an afternoon of snow shoeing or cross country skiing. Luckily, under grey skies, we were here to see the Capitol Columns. After checking into the visitor center for a map, we were on our way.
We found the original sandstone columns set in 1828 at the East Portico of the Capitol Building, standing in all their splendor on a knoll in the 20 acre Ellipse Meadow. We parked just off the road near a slowly eroding capital (the “crown” of the columns) on display.
The intricacies of the sandstone carver’s ornamental decoration of the capital is remarkable, and it creation obviously time consuming, as it took 6 months to complete each capital (there were at least 24).
A slow and deliberate walk through the meadow leads you to the remaining 22 of 24 columns, whose originally situated place at the Capitol building provided the backdrop for the Presidential inaugurations from 1829 through 1957.
Set on a small hill, with a small reflecting pool below, these massive Corinthian columns rest on a foundation of steps from the same East Portico from whence came the columns.
Imagine the history that passed through these columns, and tread upon these steps. It is fitting that these columns found such a stately setting to “grow old”, and were rescued in 1990 from languishing in a government yard of obscurity. We wandered through the columns, taking time to examine each one and the stone steps upon which they rest. It was peaceful and awe inspiring. We had the place to ourselves!
When we were done, we drove through the rest of the Arboretum and explored on foot a bit. As it was a bit chilly, and having an evening engagement, we had one more stop to round out our DC Tourist week.
One can’t visit a historic city without hitting its oldest cemetery, and some iconic art within. Off we headed to the Glenwood Cemetery, where it is rummored that one of John Wilkes Booth’s co-conspirators (George Atzerodt) is said to lie…in an unmarked grave. As of 2017, the cemetery became listed on the National Register of Historic Places. An intersesting side note is that the ownership of this cemetery was contested during a bitter divorce dispute which actually went as far as the Supreme Court [Close v. Glenwood Cemetery 107 US.466 (1883)]. In short, the wife lost. We, however, were here to see four unique chainsaw sculptures made from 200 year old toppled oak trees, by chainsaw artist Dayton Scoggins.
The three of the four chainsaw sculptures Scoggins “carved” reside amoung Victorian and Art Nouveau style mausoleums, marble sculptures and stone obelisks, all placed in memory and in honor of loved ones passed.
As we examined the detiorating sculptures, one of which (the sabertooth tiger) had toppled and been removed, we for some reason felt compelled to wander the cemetery grounds and examine the crypts and gravestones.
Some were marvelously extravagent, while others were simple, yet profound. We noticed a trend in the ages and time periods of death. We found a significant number of gravestones with similar ranges in years (1881-96) marking ones death, and significant number of children dying 1894-95. A bit of research revealed a number of pandemics that reached all socio-economic classes of the day. The speed in which the U.S. population was growing resulted in increasing concentrations of people in its already overcrowded cities. Close quarters (as we now know) are petri dishes and breading grounds for any number of communicable diseases. From 1881-1896, the U.S. lost over 50,000 people to the “5th cholera pandemic”. Malaria became an issue for DC in 1895, and the disease of Consumption (Tuberculosis, or TB) that was originally thought to be transmitted hereditarily, mainly through the poor until the rich got sick as well, resulted in changes to society and daily health habits that we now take for granted. The ravages of TB (that we now have vaccinations and antibiotics for), created laws that prohibited spitting in public, in invention of reclining chairs, the habit of hand washing and brushing of ones teeth, open spaces, city parks, and the value of fresh air outdoor recreation. Who’d a thunk it, that with this visit to an iconic cemetery to view some unique art, we learn a bit more about our history and its application to our current lives?
Our week spent in DC, exploring with family was time well spent, and only served to further wet our appetite for knowledge and adventure. As such, there is no question that another visit (to DC) is required to further explore and delve into the more obscure aspects of our history.
With that, however, it is now time to head for home and prepartion for an annual outdoor adventure, to fill our freezer with venison.