September 21, 2012

Hidden DC



The other day I was talking to a blogger about The Blog as a hub or curatorial instinct: although there is a general focus on poetry, the only thing these posts all truly have in common is, well, me. It's the reason I don't accept guest posts. It's the justification for including some pretty random tangents, such as this one....

I am a DC girl, and in the last year or so I've realized I may be one forever. When I was a kid, I would come in to visit my dad's law offices that overlooked the C&O Canal in Georgetown, trying over and over to climb the unfinished brick walls. I rooted from the third deck as the Nats clinched a playoff spot last night; I take pride in our sushi chefs and beer selections; I watched the homecoming parade for Desert Storm veterans along Constitution Avenue, complete with yellow-ribbon fireworks;  I defend our slightly staid fashion sense; I remember when Art-O-Matic was in that very strange decrepit EPA building space; I once crashed a kite into the side of the Washington Monument. 

I am, in particular, very passionate about monuments and memorials (beyond flying kites into them). I probably get it from my dad; when not lawyer-ing he was Army-ing, and in fact he was one of those who broke ground at the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial. We still have the shovel. When my first conversation with the boyfriend made mention of the FDR Memorial--which he proceeded to have strong opinions about--I knew there was something there. I've written about the Jefferson Memorial for the Post Magazine. 



Oddly enough, the Lincoln Memorial is never one I've bonded with. Odd because it has an incredible role in our collective history; more than any other monument it doubles as a stage for the nation. But there is one aspect to it that fascinates me...

...the hidden face. 

It's a story I first heard from a college boyfriend; then I overheard a tour guide--someone definitely not employed by the National Park Service--saying it to a busload of Japanese tourists; then I was reminded of it when I stumbled across this website. The principle is that if you stand in the right place, looking at the profile of Lincoln's statue, you can see a second face sculpted into the curves of hair on the back of his head. See it?


Now, apparently theories about as to who the face belongs to. Did Daniel Chester French, the sculptor, create a self portrait?  That seems to me...kinda silly. A man who devotes his craft and his life to creating such legacies is probably not so petty & egotistical. Is it of Robert E. Lee? I doubt that version too, simply 1) French was a Yankee, and 2) because General Lee had a very distinguished visage that looks nothing like the one above:


I mean, seriously. The Father of the Confederacy had one hell of a beard; any artist worth his salt would have honored that. Even if it meant giving Lincoln a mullet. 

No, the theory I return to is the version I heard from a boyfriend I met through UVA's Jefferson Literary & Debating Society (which sponsored a stone in the Washington Monument, during its construction, that you can see marked with our name to this day) (yes I am a nerd). He said the face belonged to Ulysses S. Grant, famously temperamental and insecure soldier-cum-leader, who worried he would never be as revered as the martyr Abraham Lincoln. Grant directed French to work his profile into the statue so, by hook or by crook, he would always have his mark on the Mall. Check out the side by side (with Grant's profile flipped to emphasize the symmetry):


Awesome, right? Awesome. Of course, I am just perpetuating the myth; the bureaucracy that stands between conception and construction of a monument makes it highly unlikely that it was an act of intent rather than fate. 

But I like the myth. I love DC. And that's your random tangent for the day. 

2 comments:

About Me said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Rogers said...

Great post. I like random thoughts . . . it is what my own blog is all about. And I have been exploring DC in my ancillary blog "A Flaneur in Washington, DC." Thanks for something new to consider.