Category Archives: Unknown DC

The worst memorial in the country

It’s the WWII memorial, which occupies a tragically central place on the national mall. It’s awful. Good art is hard, and rare. Thankfully, public art this bad is rare as well. I’m not alone in thinking it’s a really terrible piece of work, but maybe I can explain why. For a historian, the first problem […]

Not the Beltway

I’ve been doing occasional posts on things overlooked in the DC area–stuff you might miss if you were just in town for a short time, or things even local people don’t know anything about. This next one is pretty remarkable. The Billy Goat Trail runs along the Potomac river and the old C&O canal. It’s […]

Imagining the future in 1880

He set out to design the modern office building, but instead he invented the shopping mall. Few people who visit this building understand just how well it combines the visionary and the preposterous. It used to be the headquarters of the Pension Bureau, which oversaw the benefits paid to Civil War veterans and their families. […]

The Ego Fountain

Lesser-known DC: the Cogswell Temperance Fountain, an example of how ego paints good intentions with ugliness. Henry Cogswell started adult life as a dentist, in an age when dentistry didn’t require formal credentials, a discomforting fact to contemplate. Born in New England, he took his dental skills to California during the gold rush. Although he […]

Joe Paterno’s Glasses

Ta-Nehisi Coates, my favorite public intellectual, has a good post at TheAtlantic about Penn State. In the wake of the grotesque and appalling child abuse scandal, they’ve elected to take down the statue of Joe Paterno that stood outside the football stadium. Coates thinks they should leave it up, and put explanatory text around it. […]

The Evasive Henry Adams

Part of an occasional series series on “lesser known DC” One of the most compelling pieces of sculpture in North America sits hidden in Rock Creek cemetery in DC. It’s a statue that suits its sponsor: smart, tasteful, controlling, melancholy, arch, cryptic. It’s  a monument to decline, and silence. The story is well known to historians. […]

19th century wierdness

Part of an occasional series on “lesser-known DC” The “building” is so grotesquely out of place on the Senate side of the Capitol lawn. Surrounded by hurrying self-important staffers, high-priced lobbyists, and the constant hot bluster of politics, it’s quiet, cool, and enigmatic. It’s hopelessly impractical. It passes time, not legislation. Hundreds of thousands of […]

A Memorial that Suits its Subject

Like him or hate him, Franklin Roosevelt makes nearly every American historian’s list of the  top three Presidents. It’s always Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt, with everybody else a pretty distant fourth. FDR was elected to four terms: he served during the depression and the greatest war in world history. He oversaw the development of the […]

The Unseen Spectacular

Washington DC is full of monuments. Some of them we all know, some of them I go by and have no idea who the person is or what they did. Everybody knows the Lincoln and the Jefferson and the Washington: most people ignore what must be one of the most powerful and compelling pieces of […]