Monday, April 30, 2007

Washington's Monuments


On April 30, 1789, George Washington took the oath of office to become the first President of the United States. This photo by _Codename_ shows the 1882 statue by a man named after another President—John Quincy Adams Ward—that stands at the site where Washington was sworn in: Federal Hall, Wall Street, New York. The building itself is an 1842 replacement of the original, which was razed for scrap in 1812.

As famous as a victorious general as he is as a President, Washington is often rendered on horseback like an ancient Roman military leader. Clockworkpink's photo shows the very first Washington equestrian statue, an 1869 Thomas Ball that stands at Boston Public Garden.

Philadelphia was the capital of the United States for much of Washington's term in office. The top photo, by Steph And the City, depicts J.A. Bailey's 1869 statue of Washington standing in front of Independence Hall, where Washington had presided over the Constitutional Convention of 1787. While President, Washington lived a block away at the Executive Mansion. In the second photo, by srhbth, a 1922 bronze cast of a 1790 Jean Antoine Houdon statue of Washington looms over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington Square. The park served as a Revolutionary War barracks and later graveyard for many of Washington's men. The inscription on the sarcophagus, erected in the 1950s and encasing an exhumed soldier, reads "Beneath this stone rests a soldier of Washington's army who died to give you liberty."

Hoffmann's photo of the Capitol Rotunda shows a portrait of Washington that, like the one at Philadelphia's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, is a copy of Houdon's famous statue. It was a 1934 gift from the state of Virginia to the National Statuary Hall Collection, the Capitol's collection of a hundred monuments, two from each state. Virginia's other contribution depicted Robert E. Lee.

For the statue of Washington that stands in the National Cathedral (photographed here by AlbinoFlea), sculptor Lee Lawrie explained, "I have tried to show not the soldier, not the President, but the man Washington, coming into Christ Church, Alexandria, pausing a moment before going down the aisle to his pew."

Daniel Chester French's equestrian statue of Washington at Place d'Iéna, Paris (photographed by kreego), was given to the French government by a committee of American women in 1900. In its early years, the statue's sword was repeatedly stolen and had to be replaced. This statue, along with the Thomas Ball one in Boston, defeats the old myth about the horse's legs in an equestrian statue being code for the fate of the rider: supposedly, two legs up meant the rider died in battle, one leg raised meant the rider was wounded in battle but died later, and all four feet on the ground meant the rider survived his battles without a scratch. Each of these two statues shows Washington astride a horse with one leg raised, but Washington was never wounded in battle. He died in December of 1799 from pneumonia after inspecting his property on horseback in foul weather.

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