Well! What a busy few weeks we've had in my neck of the woods, eh? Let me be clear when I say "my neck of the woods." DC is not exactly my original neck of the woods. North central Arkansas is my neck of the woods. There is no finer neck out there, in anybody's woods. It is the pearl of the ocean, the queen of the Nile, the North Star in the heavens, the Hope Diamond in the...well, you get the idea, and I didn't know how to finish that last comparison. I don't know where the Hope Diamond is, and I don't want to leave this site to go to Google to find out. But you get the gist. The Ozark Mountain region is my neck of the woods and a finer neck can not be found. In fact, if there were an ocean nearby, I'd never have left. That would have made it beyond nirvana.
But currently I'm in the DC neck of the woods now and my heart hurts that the only thing many people know about this amazing city is the images they've seen on TV and online with regards to the January 6 storming of the nation's capitol building. I decided I wanted, no, I needed, to write about things that people don't know about this most interesting little plot of land that covers just a few square acres but encompasses so much history and architecture and ephemera and people, the likes of which you've never seen before! (I know. That phrase. But it fits.)
As I always do when I write here, I researched my topic for at least half an hour and boy howdy, do I have some doozies for you to read about! This place...this city and its surrounding cities...there is so much here that people don't know about because what they hear is (as I've already said) what is on TV or online. They don't know about the fun little places, and the silly histories, and the quirky events that are part of this place.
That is my mission with this article: to tell my readers a bit about this fascinating place in the hopes that, at the most, they (you) will have an appreciation for our country's iron pin of the property that is the USA. At the very least, they (you) should be able to throw out a little trivia at your next post-pandemic soiree in order to impress your friends and colleagues.
Let's start with the flag. Here it is:
Three red stars centered over two red stripes. Ratio: 1:2 height to width.
See? Isn't that fascinating? Well, at least pretty interesting? The design was 'lifted' from George Washington's family coat of arms, but that pretty much is it. It doesn't mean "Liberty For All!" or "We Will Prevail!" or "Stars And Stripes Symbolize Freedom!" I guess if it has to have some symbolic meaning, then it means "We Like George's Coat of Arms!" It was chosen from a group of entries in a contest. It was first adopted for use in the late 1930s and then was only used occasionally. After a few years, I guess people just got used to it, or maybe they were tired of not having a flag image to show along with the state flower (American Beauty rose), Motto (basically "Justice to All" but in Latin), bird (wood thrush, but didn't you think it would be the American Bald Eagle?), and tree (scarlet oak, and again, didn't you think it would be the cherry tree, considering it was also a big thing with George Washington folklore and, hello, the hugely popular and famous cherry blossom festival that is such a big part of springtime in DC? What were they thinking, choosing an oak tree?).
So now on to places and buildings:
The US Capitol building was a long time in the making. There were competitions held to select the design and then there were other issues to overcome before building actually started. This surprises exactly nobody, I'm sure. The wheels of everything turn slowly in DC. Finally, though, in September, 1793, the day had come to lay the cornerstone of this soon to be historic building. So on Sept. 18, George Washington and a bunch of people processed from Virginia to the area where the new building would be erected. At the time it was sort of a woodsy area (if you've ever been here, that will be hard to imagine). There were bands playing, the Masons, of which Washington was a member, military people in uniform, and the general public all congregated at Capitol Hill, and George, wearing his Masonic apron, used a marble-headed gavel and a silver trowel to lay the cornerstone of the building. There was a prayer and a 15-round volley of artillery fire to commemorate this occasion, followed by "dinner on the ground" as we back in Arkansas would call it, where they served up a roasted 500 lb ox as the entrée. The cornerstone that Washington laid was set into a silver plate. It marked the 13th year of independence, the first year of GW's second term as president, and also the year of Masonry 5793. (I don't know what that means, but he did, and that is what counts.)
And today if you want to go see that cornerstone, well, find somewhere else to go and something else to do because you can't because NOBODY CAN FIND IT. That's right. They rebuilt the East Front of the Capitol building in the late 1950s and when they started looking for it then, no one could locate it. They took out their handy-dandy metal detectors and still came up empty. There are several reasons possible for why they can't find it, but the most likely is no one really made a good map or wrote down good instructions as to where it is, exactly. It wasn't stolen, surely, because, well, it is the cornerstone to a really big and really heavy building and it's quite likely someone would have noticed at some point:
Tom: "Hey, Joe, do you know where this missing rock went? I mean, did you send it out for polishing or something?"
Joe: "What?!? Which rock? You mean there is a big hunk of the Capitol missing? Taken from the BOTTOM of the building? Har har har, Tom, you're a riot!"
So, yeah, not likely it was stolen. What amazes me is that with all the falderol and fanfare and bands playing and THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES laying a SILVER PLATE with a cornerstone embedded in it, followed by a bbq ox feast, nobody thought to keep track of exactly where the darn thing was ensconced and never thought to look for it until the 1950s! I mean, I can't find my glasses 5 minutes after I've laid them down somewhere! And I didn't throw a party and invite the President when I put them wherever I put them, so I have an excuse.
The Washington Monument:
There is so much I could tell you about this building and its construction, followed by its construction woes, structural woes, and financial woes, but I won't go into all that. I will tell you a bit about the stones that in part make up the foundation and walls of the monument.
In 1833 a group of prominent people formed the Washington Monument Society and started fundraising for the monument. They weren't really good at raising money, and it took awhile for them to get enough to start. But finally, in 1848, on July 4, the cornerstone was laid. The Society had solicited funds from each state to help pay for the monument, but Alabama didn't have enough money so it sent a stone instead. (Stop it. I know what you're thinking. It's Alabama. But wait, it turned out to be a really cool turn-around for them. God knows they can use a break.) The Society liked this idea (yay, Alabama!) so it embraced having other stones sent. A stone was even given by Pope Pius IX. The splinter political party called the Know Nothing Party was violently anti-Catholic and they determined that no "Pope's stone" would be part of the monument's base, so they stole it. They attacked the guard in the middle of the night, took the stone in a hand-cart and supposedly dumped it into the Potomac. It has never been found. (In 1982, the Catholic diocese of Spokane, Washington, presented a replica to the Nat'l Park Service for the Washington Monument. It is inscribed in Latin, and reads "From Rome to America." It is now in the monument's interior wall. So there, Know Nothing Party!)
France sent a gift stone from the tomb of Napoleon, and guess what? It is missing, too. It was seen in the Brooklyn Navy yard in 1861 but there was a Civil War going on at that time and it wasn't top priority, apparently, with regards to getting it back to DC. How it ended up in NY is a mystery, and so is its current location. We're sorry, Napoleon and the people of France. We tend to mislay things here.
There are almost 200 other stones in the monument's interior walls that were gifts. They were given by foreign governments, US states, cities, different organizations, and there is one from the Cherokee Nation. Arizona's gift stone has three pieces of petrified wood in it. There is a mosaic block from the ruins of Carthage, there is a piece of lava from Mt. Vesuvius, and other pretty nifty pieces of historic stones are in there.
Small wonder that the monument started to sink, right? However, over the years, the ground has apparently compacted underneath the structure and it is not sinking. There have been all kinds of other problems with the monument--it leaned for awhile, the elevators were unsafe for awhile, some people were behaving badly (always, it seems) and were getting injured in the elevator shaft and also vandalizing the place, all of which have caused it to be closed to the public at various times, but right now, at 5:57 pm on January 26, 2021, as I write this, it is working, safe to visit, and you can go up in the elevator and see a view of the surrounding area that is amazing. I can't promise that tomorrow something won't have happened, but for today, you're good to go. Except that it's closed right now because it's after 5 pm. Sorry about that.
The Lincoln Memorial
Here is something I bet you didn't already know about this sculpture:
The statue of Lincoln was made by sculptor Daniel French. Just before he sculpted Lincoln, he created the memorial to Thomas Gallaudet, who was the pioneer educator of the deaf, and that statue shows Gallaudet teaching sign language to his first deaf student. (Lincoln had signed the bill that chartered Gallaudet College for the deaf.) French (the sculptor) was so touched by Gallaudet's work that when he made the Lincoln statue, he shaped Lincoln's left hand in the sign language letter A, and his right hand is a modified letter L in sign language. Isn't that just so cool???
Also, did you know that the football huddles started at Gallaudet College? The football players gathered around in a closed circle (a huddle) to hide the actions of the deaf students who had to use sign language to communicate their plays to their team members without the opposing team seeing them. Now that right there was worth the time it is taking you to read this article, wasn't it?
I'm going to stop here, hopefully leaving you wanting for more, and I will post the second part of this most fascinating look at DC in a day or two. Be watching for the story of the cherry blossoms--well, the part you didn't already know. (Not oak trees, but cherry trees, DC. Why, oh, why did you choose a scarlet oak tree as your representative tree? *sigh*)