If you want to honor a national leader or hero with a statue, where do you put it? In Washington, D.C., of course. As a result, the city is bedecked with statuary, so many in fact, that its many parks, circles, and squares are virtual outdoor sculpture gardens. Keep your eyes open for the ones I list below, or plot a walking tour of your own; they all are situated in locations you are likely to pass on your sightseeing excursions.
Out of hundreds of possibilities, I've spotlighted 10 of artistic, historic, and particular whimsical relevance. The historic statues, those born of the Civil War for example, put a face on names in the history books. If for no other reason, stop for a moment when you pass one of the city's statues and see whom it honors. They all have an interesting story to tell.
For the history behind each statue, I'm indebted to James M. Goode, the former Curator of the Smithsonian "Castle" and author of The Outdoor Sculpture of Washington, DC, published in 1974 by the Smithsonian Institution Press. Sadly, little information about individual statues is provided on the site of the statues.
On Capitol Hill
The Civil War's victorious commanding general is honored with one of the city's most important statues, known as the General Ulysses S. Grant Memorial (Union Square, east end of the Mall in front of the Capitol; Metro: Capitol South). Overlooking the almost lake-size Capitol Reflecting Pool, the bronze portrait of Grant, who went on to be elected President, sits astride his charger "Cincinnatus." The sculptor, Henry Merwin Shrady, a relative unknown at the time, studied Grant's life mask to get the face correct. The horse used as a model was provided by the New York Police Department. Shrady is said to have turned a water hose on his equine model to observe the ripple of the muscles.
On Grant's right (north) is the Cavalry Group, seven horsemen charging onto the battlefield. Critics regard it as one of the most dramatically exciting statues in the country, the horses and their mounts seemingly alive and in full gallop. One horse, however, has fallen and taken his rider down with him. Using a mirror, Shrady sculpted his own face as the rider's. Military posts staged cavalry drills so he could get the troop movements correct. On Grant's left (south) is the Artillery Group, another action-packed tableau depicting three powerful horses pulling a caisson with cannon and three riders. In a brief stroll around the memorial's large marble platform you can sense the courage, tragedy, and chaos of battle. Endorsed by Congress, the statues were dedicated in 1922 on the 100th anniversary of Grant's birth. A military parade marched from the White House down Pennsylvania Avenue to the memorial, where Vice President Calvin Coolidge was among the principal speakers. Sadly, Shrady died two weeks before the ceremony. Note on the Grant statue the single word, "grant." In 1922, he needed no other identification.
Near the White House
Leading the long parade of equestrian statuary, Major General Andrew Jackson (Lafayette Square; Metro: McPherson Square), or at least his statue, enjoys what may be the most prestigious site for an honoree in Washington -- directly across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. Over the years, attempts have been made to move Jackson elsewhere, since every other statue in Lafayette Square is a Revolutionary War figure. But Jackson, another general who became President, remains, and has since the dedication in 1853 on the 38th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans.
The work, the first equestrian statue cast in the United States, commemorates the general's victory in the final battle of the War of 1812. He is shown reviewing his troops, his hat raised high in salute, and his horse rearing as if to charge. The sculptor, Clark Mills, was self-taught and, when he got the job, had never seen an equestrian statue. But he had studied European prints of such sculptures and set about establishing America's grasp of the art. A crowd of 15,000 turned out for the dedication; leading the way was President Franklin Pierce and his entire Cabinet. The sculptor, when asked to say a few words, struggled to overcome his emotion but reportedly didn't manage to get out a single utterance.
Although he lost out to Jackson for the prime position in Lafayette Square, Major General Marquis Gilbert de Lafayette (Lafayette Square; Metro: McPherson Square) was well compensated by having the entire square named after him. Many visitors hurrying through the park take a glance at Jackson and rush on thinking they have seen Lafayette, the boy general who served as Washington's aide-de-camp at Valley Forge and fought on until the war's end at Yorktown. But the marquis stands heroically in the square's southeast corner, one of four Revolutionary War leaders each occupying a different corner. (The others are Generals Thaddeus Kosciusko, Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, and Comte Jean de Rochambeau, all foreign imports like Lafayette aiding in the American war.) He is posed atop a tall marble pedestal, dressed as a civilian petitioning the French National Assembly to assist the Americans in their fight for independence. At the pedestal's base, a cloak-draped female figure symbolizing America looks up at him while holding out a sword as if urging him to grasp it and join the fight. The Lafayette statue was unveiled in 1891 to commemorate the service he and his French compatriots provided in the war. Lafayette's full name is quite lengthy, but his officer buddies knew him as Gilbert; thus the statue's official name.
You might want to tote along binoculars to better examine the General William Tecumseh Sherman Monument (15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW; Metro: Federal Triangle). It stands on a prominent site where Sherman reportedly reviewed victorious Union troops at the end of the Civil War in 1865. In 1903, the spot, just outside the south White House fence, must have seemed appropriately prestigious for the Union's second most famous general. It's still an excellent location, but new security barriers, sometimes impede access. You can still get to the statue, acclaimed as one of the city's most elaborate, but only after negotiating a maze of fencing.
Sherman rests astride his horse, his right hand holding a pair of field binoculars as if ready to view a battle. Horse and rider are placed atop a high pedestal, almost too high for anyone to view clearly; thus the need for your own visual aid. More evocative of the war are four life-size troopers, who stand alone at each corner at the pedestal's base. They represent Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery, and Engineers, all branches of the Union military. They are so realistic, the urge is to step up and ask them about their battlefield experiences. Two other groups of statues about mid-point on the pedestal represent War (two vultures attack the body of a dead soldier) and Peace (a woman and three children). Eight bas-reliefs depict aspects of Sherman's military career, among them his controversial but victorious march through Georgia.
As handsome in bronze as he was in life, Alexander Hamilton (15th Street NW at Pennsylvania Avenue NW; Metro: Federal Triangle) stands at the south entrance to the Department of Treasury Building. A heroic general in the Revolutionary War, he served as the country's first Treasury secretary, literally creating the department and guiding the young nation to financial credibility and relative stability. James Earle Fraser, who completed the statue in 1923, was one of America's leading sculptors. He also produced the statue of Albert Gallatin, Hamilton's able successor, which stands at the north entrance to the Treasury building. Hamilton is dressed formally in the 18th-century attire of a gentleman. By most historical accounts, he was a brilliant man, high-spirited, affable, charming, and good looking. Fraser captured these characteristics nicely. President Warren G. Harding presided at the dedication, creating something of a mystery when he mentioned an unidentified donor who provided funds for the work. Newspapers of the day suggested it may have been a woman who wore a veil.
Count Casimer Pulaski (Pennsylvania Avenue and 13th Street NW; Metro: Metro Center) cuts the most dashing figure of any of the city's equestrian subjects, decked out in the ornate uniform of a Polish marshal, a flowing cape draping elegantly from his shoulders. Pulaski's bronze portrait occupies a corner of Freedom Plaza, a venue for official ceremonies, entertainment, and other events sponsored by the government of the City of Washington.
So who was this guy who merits such prominent recognition? A Polish nobleman, he began his military career as a Polish freedom fighter, earning the rank of marshal general. But he was inspired by America's fight for independence. He sought the help of Benjamin Franklin, then on diplomatic duty in Paris, and Franklin recommended him to George Washington. His courageous service in the Battle of Brandywine in 1777 prompted Washington to commission him as a brigadier general in the American cavalry. A brilliant commander, respected by his troops, he suffered a fatal wound in the Battle of Savannah in 1779 and died at the age of 31.
The Boy Scout Memorial (On the Ellipse at 15th Street between E Street and Constitution Avenue NW; Metro: Federal Triangle) is a natural stop if there are any Boy Scouts, former Scouts, or Scout leaders in your group. But the tribute offered is not to the Scouts themselves but to their parents and others who work on behalf of American youth. Financed by the contributions of Scouts and unveiled in 1964, it is located on the site of the First National Boy Scout Jamboree in Washington in 1937.
Unfortunately, the statue has not been a critical success. In the center stands a young Scout in full uniform, hiking boots on his feet, and a walking stick in his hand as he strides off. He looks the ideal Scout, and nobody has a problem with him. But he is greatly overshadowed by the two giant allegorical figures behind him, a male and female only partially clothed in wind-blown drapery. They represent American Manhood and Womanhood. All well and good, except when you see the threesome for the first time, you're apt to wonder why the kid's parents are nearly naked. I mean no disrespect to Scouts -- I was one myself -- but sometimes sculptors goof.
Near the World War II Memorial
Numerous nations have bestowed statues on Washington of their homegrown champions of liberty. Prominent among them is General Simon Bolivar (18th Street at C Street and Virginia Avenue NW; Metro: Farragut West), who is credited with liberating much of South America from Spanish rule. He is represented in bronze with what may be the largest equestrian statue in the world. The designer, Felix W. de Weldon, also sculpted the Iwo Jima Memorial. Bolivar, astride his horse, lifts a sword high above his head. My historical source says he is urging victory. But his formidable gaze is directed at the Art Museum of the Americas and at the rear of the Pan American Union building just beyond. One might easily think, instead, that he is launching a military charge against the two buildings and the Organization of American States, which they house. Around his neck he wears a bronze replica of a gold medal given to him by Lafayette. The statue, erected in 1959, was a gift of Venezuela, one of the countries Bolivar liberated.
At first glance, The Temperance Fountain (Pennsylvania Avenue at 7th Street NW; Metro: Archives-Navy Memorial) is a puzzler, an endearing oddity that amuses the locals and befuddles visitors. It stands on one of the most prominent corners along Washington's ceremonial avenue, the route of the Inaugural parades from the Capitol to the White House. The structure resembles a small temple, its canopy supported by four granite pillars, one at each corner. Beneath it is a pair of entwined dolphins, their rear flippers lifted rakishly in the air. Atop the canopy, an elegant water crane on stilt-like legs silently observes the daily hubbub around him. The impish dolphins once spouted drinking water. A San Francisco dentist, Henry Cogswell, gave the fountain to the city so people could quench their thirst with water rather than alcohol. A man who made his fortune in the California gold rush, Cogswell donated similar fountains to other cities in the 1870s and 1880s, but most have been removed. A U.S. senator once tried to convince Congress to get rid of the one in Washington. He's long gone, but the fountain is still here.
This article is an excerpt from Pauline Frommer's Washington, D.C., 1st Edition, available in our online bookstore now.
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