The National Park System consists of several different kinds of entities, parks being the biggest in size and number, of course. But there are also national seashores, national lakeshores, national monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks, historic sites, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails, the White House, and even national memorials, the latter often tiny in comparison to the huge parks, largest of which is the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve in Alaska, with 13.2 million acres. (The smallest is Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Pennsylvania, with 0.02 acres.) There are 392 areas, covering more than 84 million acres, in every state (except Delaware), as well as in the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. There are about 20,000 employees, and the number of visitors in 2009 was 285,579,941, nearly the size of the entire population of the United States.
One such memorial is the John Ericsson National Memorial, right in the heart of the nation's capital, near the Lincoln Memorial.
So who was John Ericsson? A Swedish-born inventor, he revolutionized several facets of technology, they say. He is best known for his work during the Civil War when he transformed naval warfare by designing the iron-plated USS Monitor, which memorably fought the Confederate ironclad, the CSS Virginia (originally the scuttled USS Merrimack), thus ensuring the success of the Union's blockade of Confederate ports. He also developed the screw propeller, among many other inventions which helped to modernize naval warfare.
The memorial is sited in West Potomac Park, near the place where Independence Avenue, 23rd Street and Ohio Drive meet, just to the south of the Lincoln Memorial and alongside the Potomac River.
You guide yourself here, using the interpretive wayside panel just outside. If you need more information, you could call a ranger at the number listed below under Contacts. There are also rangers at the nearby Vietnam, Korean, and Lincoln memorials, just to the north across Independence Avenue.
The memorial, sculpted by James Earle Fraser in the 1920s, consists of an allegorical grouping on a base resembling the compass. There are three figures standing back to back around the Norse Tree of Life, acknowledging Ericsson's Scandinavian heritage. One figure is that of a Viking warrior, another an ironworker representing labor, the third a female figure representing vision. The sculpture's model was unveiled in 1926 in the presence of President Coolidge and Crown Prince Gustav Adolf of Sweden. The final granite version was finished the next year.
An amusing fact about the memorial's site along the Potomac: Long before the memorial was contemplated or Ericsson had begun his career, John Quincy Adams used to swim here early nearly every morning. An enterprising journalist named Anne Royall, who had been refused requests for an interview, came down one morning and sat on the president's clothing, refusing to leave until he had granted her an interview. He stood in the water, she made notes sitting on his clothes, and when it was over, she left, he came out of the water and got dressed. It was the first interview ever granted by a president to a female reporter.
There's no fee to see the memorial, and it is open 24/7.
There are no park rangers here, but you can find them at such nearby spots at the memorials to Lincoln, the Korean War Veterans, or Vietnam Veterans.
The official website of the John Ericsson National Memorial is www.nps.gov/joer. The monument is part of the National Mall & Memorial Parks system, tel. 202/426-6841.