Everyone knows that Washington D.C. is a historic city. But unbeknownst to most of the world, D.C.’s history extends far beyond the monuments and museums around the National Mall and the Tidal Basin.
Looking south down 16th Street from Columbia Heights, toward the White House (further away then it looks) and the Jefferson Memorial.
Last Friday I went running through Meridian Hill Park — in Northwest D.C. between 15th, 16th, and Euclid Streets — and noticed how pretty it is. I decided to go back the next morning to take photos, and my friend Bob graciously agreed to accompany me (rising far earlier than his normal Saturday wake-up time) to provide some historic background on the park.
Cascading waterfall in Meridian Hill Park, a national historic landmark in Northwest Washington.
Bob is more knowledgeable about Washington D.C. than anyone else I know. He is a professional tour guide and, as I mentioned in a previous post, writes a D.C. blog called Historic District. (Bob wrote a parallel post about our Saturday adventures, which includes more historical context than my post does. Check it out.)
Bob, aka Historic District (he also answers to the name “History Bitch”), with his buddy Abe Lincoln at Lincoln’s Cottage. Lincoln’s Cottage is another best-kept secret in Northwest D.C. — a subject for another blog post.
Note: Bob’s partner Tim is camera-shy, but I’d just like to say that he is wonderful too. He deserves the credit for getting Bob up on Saturday morning and driving us to the park.
Meridian Hill Park was built in the early 20th century, along what was once considered to be America’s prime meridian. (The American government eventually gave up and accepted that the world’s prime meridian is in Greenwich, England.) The park is anchored by four historic statues, depicting President James Buchanan, Dante, Joan of Arc, and “Serenity”.
James Buchanan, believed by many to be America’s first gay president.
Joan of Arc. This is my favorite statue in the park.
It was the Serenity statue that motivated me to go back and take photos at Meridian Hill in the first place. I’ve been on a quest for serenity lately so the statue caught my eye when I jogged past it on Friday.
The Serenity statue has a very interesting history, which you can read about in Historic District. But the main gist of the story is that Serenity’s life has not been at all serene. She has been vandalized and defaced repeatedly since she was created in 1925, and her appearance today reflects that abuse.
Poor Serenity. She has several cracks and is missing a hand, a nose, and various other appendages. As recently as this past April, Serenity was vandalized with black and red paint. Her empty eye sockets freak me out.
As we commiserated over Serenity’s misfortune, Bob’s face suddenly lit up. He remembered another statue he wanted to take me to see.
A couple of hours later we headed to Rock Creek Cemetery, just north of D.C.’s Petworth neighborhood, in search of “Grief”.
A beautiful work of art hidden behind a hedge in an obscure D.C. cemetery. (By the way, Rock Creek Cemetery is nowhere near Rock Creek Park.) The statue was created by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
Bob had been wanting to track down Grief — which is oddly hard to find — for a while, and Saturday turned out to be the day. The statue sits on the unmarked grave of Henry Adams (descendant of U.S. presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams) and Henry’s wife Marian, whose nickname was Clover. Clover, one of America’s first female photographers, committed suicide in 1885 and Henry Adams commissioned this statue in her honor. (Again, read a more informative history of the statue in Historic District’s post.)
Grief isn’t the official name of the statue (I don’t think it has one), but I can see why people call it that.
I was moved by Grief. I feel like I get it.
Thank you, History Bitch, for taking me to find Serenity and Grief on a gloomy D.C. Saturday. The experience was strangely appropriate and I couldn’t have had it with anyone but you. I’m lucky to have you as my friend.