The rise of the American space program overlapped with the dawn of the civil rights movement in the United States. Many of NASA's first African-American employees worked to send humans into space while at the same time finding their place in the struggle for racial equality. Kojo explores this intersection in history with two authors who chronicled the stories of some of the earliest African-American space workers - and an astronaut who followed them to become the first African-American in to lead NASA on a permanent basis.
It’s a mystery to some why there are memorials in Washington honoring victims of communism, a Czech patriot and women who died on the Titanic. But a statue or a monument built here on federal land is typically the result of a passionate interest group raising money and lobbying for a sponsor in Congress. Some feel the nation’s capital would benefit from a more coherent approach, while others see a reflection of our nation’s patchwork identity. We explore the lesser-known memorials in Washington.
- Philip Kennicott Culture Critic, Washington Post
- Lucy Kempf Urban planner; Project Manager for Memorial Policy, National Capital Planning Commission
- Kirk Savage Professor, History of Art & Architecture, University of Pittsburgh; author of “Monument Wars: Washington, D.C., the National Mall, and the Transformation of the Memorial Landscape"
Photos: Obscure Memorials
Away from the National Mall, many little-known memorials, statues and monuments adorn the city’s landscape.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's a mystery to some why there are memorials in Washington honoring victims of communism, a Czech patriot and women who died on the Titanic.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIDozens of these smaller monuments sit on choice parcels of federal land near the National Mall intriguing and sometimes mystifying visitors. These memorials are typically the result of a passionate interest group raising money and lobbying for a sponsor in Congress.
MR. KOJO NNAMDISome feel the nation's capital would benefit from a more coherent approach to its public landscape. Others see a reflection of our nation's patchwork identity. Joining us to help explore how these lesser-known memorials get here is Philip Kennicott. He is a culture critic for The Washington Post, Phil Kennicott, good to see you.
MR. PHILIP KENNICOTTThanks for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Lucy Kempf, she is an urban planner and project manager for memorial policy at the National Capital Planning Commission. Lucy Kempf, thank you for joining us.
MS. LUCY KEMPFThank you.
NNAMDIAnd joining us from studios in Pittsburgh is Kirk Savage. Kirk Savage is a professor of history of art and architecture at the University of Pittsburgh. He's also the author of "Monument Wars: Washington, D.C., the National Mall and the Transformation of the Memorial Landscape."
NNAMDIKirk Savage, thank you for joining us. I can't hear Kirk Savage quite yet, but he is no doubt there and will be joining the conversation shortly. Philip, you wrote a piece in The Washington Post about this proposed Ukrainian Famine Memorial. Can you tell us about that memorial?
KENNICOTTWell, the memorial is designed to remember a horrific event in 1932-1933, which was a famine and it was a man-made famine and it was very much at the behest of Stalin's government. And it led to extraordinary suffering and death in the Ukraine, 3.5 million, perhaps 4 million people, according to most scholarly estimates of the dead.
KENNICOTTIt was unnecessary. It was brutal. It was one of these acts of totalitarian bad governance that is easily forgotten and there was a move to remember this that came out of a change in the Ukrainian government in 2004-2005 when a new administration emerged that wanted to focus really on Ukrainian identity and history and it became important to them for this event to be memorialized.
NNAMDIWhat kind of public debate, if any, is there around a memorial like that?
KENNICOTTWell, in the case of this memorial, there wasn't a lot of public debate. There was a Congressional discussion but I wouldn't really call it a debate. I went back and read the transcripts and there was support in Congress. People seemed to kind of know the talking points and repeated them.
KENNICOTTThere wasn't much if any from the material I read discussion or negative view of this and so it passed under a law called The Commemorative Works Act and that was back in 2006. And then, as most memorials in Washington do, it kind of percolated slowly under the radar and then just last month there was a kind of final approval hearing through one of the oversight agencies and now it's going to happen.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments about this or any other memorial, you can call us at 800-433-8850. What off-the-beaten-path memorials have you come across here in Washington? 800-433-8850, you can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a tweet @kojoshow
NNAMDIKirk Savage, can you hear me?
MR. KIRK SAVAGEYes, I can.
NNAMDIKirk, the Ukrainian Famine Memorial is a very particular case, but on the other hand, it's also typical in many ways of these smaller monuments being built today in terms of the theme and the politics behind it, isn't it?
SAVAGEWell, it is in the sense that this is a constituent-driven process. You know, it's not a process in which there is some kind of committee that is deciding what are the most appropriate subjects to be remembered and commemorated in the landscape here. It's a process in which politically well-connected folks are able to get a Congressional sponsor to erect a monument of interest to them.
SAVAGEAnd Philip is absolutely right that there then tends to be very little public discussion about these because they're done at a Congressional level and they're minor issues as far as the Congress is concerned.
NNAMDILucy Kempf, a brief overview of how the process works today might be helpful. Can you talk about how something moves from idea to actual memorial?
KEMPFSure, memorials in Washington are governed by a law, The Commemorative Works Act, which covers most federal lands in Washington, including the Parks Service, which is where many of the projects that your listeners will be familiar with take place. I like to think of it in four phases.
KEMPFThe first is authorization as the gentlemen here have already mentioned. Congress authorizes each new memorial subject by separate law. Usually, this is a response to a request from a committed citizen's group or a non-profit.
KEMPFAfter that, Congress has delegated responsibilities to the agencies. So we have site selection, design and then construction and maintenance. The fifth point I think that's important is fundraising, which is usually the responsibility of the memorial sponsor and that's going on throughout the process.
NNAMDIWhat's the role of your agency, The National Capital Planning Commission?
KEMPFSo NCPC approves site and design, that second and third phase that I mentioned and we also sit on a small advisory group that provides comments to Congress when new memorials are under consideration through legislation.
NNAMDIAgain, the number 800-433-8850, do you think it's a good thing that special interest groups can get a monument built here in Washington? Or what off-the-beaten-path memorials have you come across in Washington? You can call us at 800-433-8850. We're talking with Lucy Kempf. She's an urban planner and project manager for memorial policy at the National Capital Planning Commission. Kirk Savage is a professor of history of art and architecture at the University of Pittsburgh and Philip Kennicott is a culture critic for The Washington Post.
NNAMDIThese memorials are built in D.C. Phil Kennicott, but on federal land. What kind of say does the District of Columbia get?
KENNICOTTWell, the District of Columbia has some people who sit on groups like the NCPC so there are representatives there who can talk about it. I think the District has some representation on the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission.
KENNICOTTSo in the process, we have some kind of official say, but as so often happens now, these things are kind of happening at 9:00 to 5:00 at the government level and it's not until the bulldozers show up that the second process begins and that's when it breaks out into discussions, for instance like this one.
KENNICOTTWhen people actually start showing up and wondering, well, how did this happen? How did we get here? Why are we memorializing this in this particular plot of land? And that's where the process gets, one, complicated and interesting or two, painful, depending on how powerful and how much noise those groups want to make.
NNAMDIWell Cheryl in Washington, D.C. has a process question. Cheryl, you're on the air, go ahead, please.
CHERYLYes, I would just like to know the role of the Department of Interior in making these decisions.
KEMPFYes, sure, the Department of the Interior and through it, the National Parks Service usually acts on behalf of the Department of the Interior. They play a really important role in the process. They chair the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission which is the group that Philip referred to which provides comments to Congress when new legislation is under consideration.
KEMPFThey submit projects on behalf of memorial sponsors to the agencies for site selection and design and of course are responsible for the long-term maintenance of the memorial and the interpretation.
NNAMDIAnd Phil had mentioned earlier about whether the District of Columbia has representation on the National Capital Planning Commission. Can you tell us a little bit more about who serves on the commission?
KEMPFCertainly, the commission is a 12-member body that has a range of folks from federal agencies as well as the District of Columbia and two members from Congress. And the mayor has a representative and the head of city council also appoints someone so.
NNAMDICheryl, thank you very much for your call. You too can call us at 800-433-8850. Kirk Savage, are memorials all somewhat political in that they start with a sponsor in Congress?
SAVAGEWell, certainly and they've really always been that way. I mean, the process has always been driven by special interest groups, even well back into the 19th century.
SAVAGEI think one of the key differences, though, now is that the process has become more privatized in the sense that the sponsorship and funding of the memorial takes place more outside the public gaze whereas in, at least in the 19th century the groups that went ahead to try to erect monuments had to at least make a show of trying to get public involvement in, for example, the fundraising campaign through a public subscription campaign, which usually failed, but in any case, it was still an opportunity to kind of garner much more widespread public support and discussion about the project.
NNAMDIKirk, people often ask when we do shows on memorials, why is there no memorial to peace here in Washington? What would be your answer to that question?
SAVAGEWell, who is the constituent for peace? There are lots of special interest constituents for veterans for example and veterans don't tend to erect peace memorials though some of them might want to. So veterans groups are precisely some of the most powerful and vocal groups in the commemorative process and certainly have the ear of Congress for many good reasons actually.
SAVAGEYou know, that's an example of why. Now if I were to go and propose a monument, for example, to the anti-war movement in Vietnam, I don't think I could find a Congressional sponsor for that.
NNAMDISo you think that if Congressman George from Indiana were simply to get the idea of having a peace memorial that it could have an adverse effect on his political career?
SAVAGEUm, yeah I do. You know, it depends how the, it depends how such a project is framed. But you know my understanding is that even the, you know, the U.S. Institute for Peace which has been recently finished, you know, on 23rd and Constitution Avenue, that that has become a kind of, a little bit of a political football itself because it relies to some extent on Congressional funding.
SAVAGESo in this kind of environment and that may be one of the few kind of, hot-button issues, no one is really going to vote against a monument to the Ukrainian famine for example.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. Do you think the federal or city government should have more of a role in deciding what we commemorate and how? 800-433-8850. Phil Kennicott, money also plays a role. The Ukrainian Famine Memorial is supported by a foreign government so these memorials don't cost taxpayers anything directly but would it make a difference if it was taxpayer money that was involved?
KENNICOTTI think it would make a huge difference. Kirk mentioned the privatization of the memorial process just recently and this is the first time that I think you're seeing an example where that privatization could potentially lead to bigger issues.
KENNICOTTCongress finds it very easy to approve a memorial. A constituency comes before it and says, this is an important event and we'd like you to do it and so they pass it, but they do it contingent upon it not cost them a penny. So where are the brakes on this process?
KENNICOTTWhere are they actually required to think about a limited landscape and how best to make decisions about which memorials should occupy the best spots and so forth? For as long as nobody is paying for it there's really nothing to bring order and kind of a bit of more deliberation to the process.
NNAMDIKirk Savage, if there was taxpayer money involved in paying for these memorials what do you think would happen?
SAVAGEI think it's a really interesting question. I do think Philip is right that I think it would actually create another set of brakes on the process. I do think it would probably result in less memorials being erected, you know, if there's kind of skin in the game, so to speak, taxpayer skin in the game.
SAVAGEOn the other hand, you know, I do have some concerns about the idea simply because it does mean that then everything becomes, all memorial projects in a sense, become arms of the federal nation state. I mean...
NNAMDIThat is, if they were all funded by federal tax money?
SAVAGERight. Now in reality that may have very little difference in the time and place that we are in right now. But potentially it might have some significant difference.
NNAMDIYou worried that it could become a propaganda arm of the state?
SAVAGEWell, essentially. Right. I mean, essentially. You know, one thing about the kind of constituent-driven process is it does bring ideas into the process that might not get there otherwise. So -- but on the other hand, Philip's absolutely right that by not actually requiring payment for it means that anything -- kind of anything goes as long as it isn't politically unacceptable, like a peace memorial
SAVAGEAs long as it's not that, then it becomes acceptable. And so there's really no thought about it and very little public involvement.
KENNICOTTI think that's a good summary of the reasons that you would like to empower independent people in the memorialization process. And, you know, as an example I oftentimes walk by a memorial, the Netherlands Carillon, which is down the hill by the capital. And it was a gift from the Dutch government. It came after the Second World War in honor of the role the United States played in that war. And it's a beautiful design but it's the sort of design I think would never happen if a government committee was in charge of building a Carillon at that spot.
NNAMDIWell, we got a Tweet from David who says "Nothing beats the Sonny Bono Memorial Park. It's a park in Northwest Washington at the intersection of New Hampshire Avenue, 20th Street and "O" Street near DuPont Circle." Any idea who paid for that?
KENNICOTTI have to turn to Lucy on that one because even 25 years...
KEMPFIt is not -- that is not a federal memorial. It's the local district of Columbia project.
NNAMDIWell, Phil, what do you see reflected in what you describe as a hodgepodge of smaller memorials being built today?
KENNICOTTWell, you know, in some ways there's some interesting forces that are going on that have nothing to do with memorialization. One is that there's a very important and I think worthy effort to move memorials away from the mall. And that's why a lot of these spots has opened up. The National Capital Planning Commission had a task force that identified a hundred sites for memorials. And they were identified not just in northwest, not just near the mall but looking into neighborhoods that don't have a rich memorial landscape. And so in a way the move for a lot of small new memorials is reflecting that move away from the mall.
KENNICOTTAnd the other thing that's happening that's kind of positive is that in some cases, for instance along Massachusetts Avenue where the memorial we're talking about now is happening, there's been such economic development there, so many more people living in that particular block, that this is now -- it's a desirable site to have a memorial. And in some ways it reflects the health of the city. I think as long as congress is not really willing to live by the spirit of the Commemorative Works Act, which is to focus on the things that are important.
KENNICOTTWritten into the law is a statement that these things really should matter to Americans some fundamental way as long as they're not really deliberating in the spirit of that act. We're not going to see a lot of reason or order brought to the kind of memorials that we get. We're going to get some real stinkers but as Kirk said, we may also get some really interesting ones that would never have happened under a much more federally dominated process.
NNAMDIAnd some people would say, well, there's reason and order, but on the other hand, the various groups wanting to tell their stories might be something of a reflection of the melting pot that is our country and is the city, right, Lucy Kempf?
KEMPFRight. I mean, we have a very long history of establishing memorials or accepting gifts from foreign governments. I think if you look at -- we've just put together a database and published it, that includes all the memorials that we have from foreign governments. And even though we may be paying for them a little bit differently I think that the tradition that we have now is just that. It's a tradition.
NNAMDIAnd that's what it is. Kirk, if -- you mentioned earlier that the process is random but that's not new. And, in fact, the Washington Monument was initially a project launched by a private organization, Kirk Savage?
SAVAGEYes, it was. The Washington National Monument Association was essentially a group of elite Washington residents in the early 19th century who wanted to promote Washington D.C. as the capital and wanted to make sure that it remains the capital of the United States. So part of their idea was that we would -- they would propose this gigantic monument to George Washington that would be the tallest building in the world. And if you build the tallest building in the world there, than it would make it harder to move the capital to another location, to another city.
SAVAGEAnd eventually in order for that monument to be completed that's obelisk that we all know and love today, the federal government had to take over the project eventually because this private association couldn't raise enough money to finish it.
NNAMDISpeaking of monuments to peace, let's go to the phones and talk with John Moore who is in Alexandria, Va. John Moore, you are -- well, John Moore, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHN MOOREYes. Well, thank you. I've had a long time interest in the Peace Institute. And I was one of the three individual founders of the National Peace Institute Foundation which was eventually successful in establishing the U.S. Institute of Peace in 1985.
NNAMDIAnd you think there is a likelihood possibility that there could be a monument, a memorial to peace in Washington?
MOOREWell, it's a very difficult subject. It was a horrendous project to establish the U.S. Institute of Peace. But then eventually there -- well, actually some of the existing congressmen eventually changed to support that idea. And they were posing a number of difficult questions like does this afford for such a thing, have to involve the -- well, like the secretive agencies like FBI or National Science Foundation or various things like that. But eventually it became more and more difficult to decide not to support this.
MOOREAnd now once again, although I think you would like to hear that the Buddhist church -- or I don't know if that's what they call it, but...
NNAMDIBuddhist faith. Go ahead.
MOORE...yes, they have now, as of within the last month, announced a world peace initiative. So I think there probably...
NNAMDIYou think there is some momentum for this. We're running out of time and I'd like to have Lucy Kempf respond.
KEMPFWell, I was just going to mention that there is a Peace Corps Memorial proposal in congress today. It's been introduced several times and it is under consideration in this session. So it does depend on how you frame it, as Kirk said. This would be a memorial that would honor individuals who serve in the Peace Corp and the underlying principles that are part of the Peace Corp mission.
NNAMDIAnd we got an email from Jonathan who said "The Peace Monument, also known as the Naval Monument or Civil War Sailors Monument stands on the ground of the United States capital in Peace Circle at 1st Street Northwest and Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C." Well, we did ask you what off-the-beaten-path memorials you've come across here in Washington. That's not quite off the beaten path but thank you very much for sharing that information with us. And John Moore, thank you for sharing some of that history with us.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break because, as you know, this is the third day of our Fall Membership Campaign so we're going to ask you to become members of WAMU 88.5 and then we will return to our conversation about lesser known memorials in Washington, D.C. But if you have questions or comments you can still join this conversation by calling 800-433-8850 or sending email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on lesser known memorials in D.C. We're talking with Lucy Kempf. She is an urban planner and project manager for Memorial Policy at the National Capital Planning Commission. Philip Kennicott is a culture critic for the Washington Post. And Kirk Savage is a professor of history of art and architecture at the University of Pittsburgh, and the author of "Monument Wars: Washington, D.C. the National Mall and the Transformation of the Memorial Landscape." If you'd like to join the conversation call us at 800-433-8850. What off-the-beaten-path memorials have you come across here in Washington? 800-433-8850.
NNAMDILucy Kempf, almost half of the memorial subjects relate to the military here but there are a range of themes represented across these memorials. Can you talk a little bit about that and how your organization is working to catalog what's there now?
KEMPFYeah, sure. One of our goals at NCPC is to ensure that the public is well informed about the memorial process, particularly during site selection and design. And to the content question we've just completed a catalog of all 113 memorials on Park Service land. We looked at memorial subjects sort of from the broadest perspective and so -- and we looked at them overtime. And we've identified memorials that relate to American statesmanship, achievements in the arts and sciences. We have American and the World which includes a lot of the international gifts.
KEMPFAnd so it's not intended to basically say here are the subjects that we have from our perspective but give the public a chance to look at the memorials and where they're located and draw their own conclusions.
NNAMDIIt notes commemoration is a national public interest. We want to hear from you. So you'd like to hear from us, members of the public.
KEMPFYes, we do.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here is Gabby at Marion Station, Md. Gabby, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GABBYHey (unintelligible) .
GABBYCircle Memorial in D.C., Benjamin Banneker...
NNAMDIOh, at L'Enfant Plaza.
GABBY...on top of L'Enfant Plaza.
NNAMDIYeah. Yeah. That's a well-known one. I don't know if I would describe this as a lesser-known memorial, would you, Lucy?
KEMPFI don't think so.
SAVAGEIt may be under protected and underappreciated.
NNAMDIUnderappreciated for sure I would say.
GABBYOh, it is. It is falling apart though. I was up there some months back, and it seemed like it was pretty desolate. I mean, you know, it needs trim -- new bushes and stuff around there.
NNAMDIYou know, I always make a point of driving through there when I'm in that part of the city. For some reason or other I like riding through there. Gabby, thank you very much for your call. Kirk Savage, you've traced the history of commemorative works from the 19th century through today. What do you note about the themes and the subjects of the monuments and memorial over that time.
SAVAGEWell, Lucy is right, you know, that the -- obviously the military theme has been very strong throughout this whole period of time, but there have been some interesting shifts, even within military monuments, you know, they began largely as monuments to named officers, to great commanders, you know, the typical man on the horseback, and have since evolved into memorials to the common soldier and to large groups of soldiers in the 20th century.
SAVAGEAnd there have been some -- increasing over time there came to be more monuments by groups say who identified themselves ethnically as ethnic organizations or other kinds of organizations got more and more into the game as time went on.
NNAMDILucy, you mentioned the Commemorative Works Act. It underwent a pretty big revision in 2003. What was the idea then?
KEMPFIn 2003, Congress established a reserve where no -- which is the area that most of us understand to be the National Mall, and this is an area that we want to protect the open -- the extraordinary open space and cultural resources, and so the reserve basically prohibits building new permanent memorials, although we all recognize the Mall as a very dynamic place, and it's really a stage and there are projects like that National Memorial AIDS Quilt, which was on display again there this year. So the reserve I think is the key element in the update.
NNAMDIWell, subjects of commemoration are supposed to be of -- quoting here -- "lasting significance to the United States." One of the challenges, I imagine is deciding what qualifies as being of lasting significance to the United States. Who gets to make that decision?
KEMPFIt is a huge challenge, and that is under the purview of Congress. So Congress has really reserved to itself the right to authorize new subject matter, and if you look at -- part of the research that we've done is to look at practices in other capital cities in the U.S. and abroad. Most places have some opportunity for lawmakers to provide a comment on subject matter, so yes, the process here is very constituent driven, but it's not unique in the U.S. and abroad.
NNAMDIKirk Savage, you see this as a challenge, the National Capital Planning Commission exercises oversight, but is nevertheless tied to Congress for its budget.
SAVAGEYeah. So certainly it is, and so it's difficult to have the kind of comprehensive thinking about the landscape that, you know, we've been talking about under these kinds of conditions. And even under the best conditions it's very difficult to, you know, know what is going to be of lasting significance. You know, the Mall was essentially redesigned in the early 20th century as a gigantic Civil War memorial, and that's what the McMillan -- so-call McMillan planners thought would be the landscape of in perpetuity.
SAVAGEAnd of course, you know, since then, lots of things have happened, and the western part of the mall now is really about the United States' involvement in these horrific international wars of the 20th century and in World War II, Vietnam, Korea, and so on. And so all these trends are in a sense going to, you know, everything is going to change. It's always constantly going to evolve, and it's very -- nobody -- no one of us could -- or even group of us could predict, you know, what will eventually be of relevance in the, you know, 22 century for example.
NNAMDIPhil Kennicott, some of the events being commemorated like the aforementioned Ukrainian Famine happened far from U.S. soil. What do you make of honoring those events?
KENNICOTTWell, I think there are plenty of good reasons to honor the Ukrainian Famine, not least of it is that there are a lot of people in the Ukrainian Diaspora living in the United States who were directly affected by that. Clearly there was a precedent set by the Holocaust Memorial Museum which doesn't just memorialize the Holocaust, but does really great work on a host of issues, including genocide beyond just the question of what happened in Europe in the second World War.
KENNICOTTBut I think the Ukrainian Memorial is of particular interest, and it shows some of the problems that can develop if Congress isn't a little more engaged in the process of what matters. The reason this memorial is a little different is that the government changed in the Ukraine between the time when the memorial was authorized and the time that it was actually going to be built. And the current government of Ukraine is actually not very interested in the subject that this memorial honors.
KENNICOTTI took up this story back in September because I thought for a while that we might actually get to the point where the text that was on the memorial would not be approved by the current Ukrainian government, and we'd end up in a sense in a sort of limbo where we're trying to build a memorial to an event with the decisions being made in Kiev, and Kiev doesn't particularly want to build the memorial that we signed onto in 2006. So when you've got that kind of situation developing, then I think you need to be aware that this kind of free for all memorial process that Congress indulges in, is going to come back to bite them sometimes.
NNAMDIOnto Steve in Pasadena, Md. Steve, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
STEVEHi, thanks for having me. My question is, what are some of the criteria that's looked at when establishing a new monument, and, you know, just give me an example of what would start the process.
KEMPFSo the Commemorative Works Act includes some different criteria. One is it defines what a commemorative work is, so a memorial or a monument for example. In terms of content, which is what we're exploring here, it requires that the subject be of lasting significance to American history. If it's a military-related work, there are certain provisions, and then there are also time restrictions. So in other words, you can't commemorate an individual for example until after they have passed away for 25 years, and that's a common provision again in the U.S. and abroad.
KEMPFIt's a way of giving us some distance and historical perspective before building the memorial.
NNAMDIThank you for you call, Steve. We got an email from Megan who says, "I've spent a great deal of time in graduate school discussing monuments, memorials, and museums, especially in D.C. Kirk Savage's book, "Monument Wars" is a wonderful text and started many fruitful discussions, but I was wondering, if so many monuments and memorials in D.C. are sponsored by foreign governments and groups, does the U.S. reciprocate? If I were to travel to international cities, would I see memorials sponsored by our government?" Kirk Savage?
SAVAGEA few. So if you go to London, there's a memorial to -- a statue of Lincoln for example, that was given, that was actually turned out to be very controversial here in the United States. The gift turned out to be controversial here, not there. So there are some examples of this. It is a reciprocal process.
NNAMDIWell, we have Tom in Bowie, Md., who just may be a connoisseur of lesser-known monuments. Tom, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TOMYeah. We have a Boy Scout troop out in Bowie, Md., and we've developed an orienteering course around the Mall and the White House in finding obscure memorials and such.
NNAMDIHow long have you been doing this, and do you keep count of how many obscure memorials you've found, and what's the most obscure?
TOMWell, the -- probably the most obscure is the zero longitude marker next to the Washington Monument.
NNAMDIOkay. Lucy's familiar with it. Go ahead, please.
TOMWell, Jefferson wanted to make the White House zero longitude instead of Greenwich, so -- but there's a little stone monument west of the Washington Monument in the ground that nobody ever sees, but probably the strangest monument itself is the Boy Scout monument, which is two -- oh, almost naked man and woman leading a Boy Scout down the path. So it's very strange for the boys to see that monument.
NNAMDIHow regularly do you take the scout troop on these obscure monument tours?
TOMEvery two or three years, we take them downtown for an orienteering course and give them a map and a compass and have them wander around the Mall trying to find different monuments and answering questions about them.
NNAMDIGood for you, Tom, and thank you very much for your call. Lucy, there's been an ongoing debate about the World War I memorial dedicated to D.C. residents who fought and died in the war. It's a marble memorial on the National Mall. Can you explain what's the issue here?
KEMPFWell, first of all, that memorial has just been beautifully redone by the National Park Service, and I think there was a debate at the Congressional level. There was some interest in broadening out its purposes to a national memorial, so it would have been more though than just a name. I think there was an interest originally in building some additional statuary there at the site of the local memorial and inspired...
NNAMDIPeeves some residents of D.C.
KEMPF...a very rigorous debate, yes.
NNAMDIKirk, you see this as an extension of the tensions between Washington D.C. or the District of Columbia and the federal government?
SAVAGEYeah, definitely. I mean, I think if there were a different set of relations between the district and the federal government that it might have been possible to actually collaborate on expanding the significance of that monument. But given the history, the long history of, you know, disenfranchisement of voters in D.C. and so on, this was their project, and for it to be taken over by the federal government could really, you know, be seen as an affront, just yet another affront to the District and its jurisdictional authority.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Mark in D.C. who said, "World War I is the only major 20th century conflict without a national memorial on the Mall, and some people hope to remedy this in the run up to the centennial of the war which would of course by 2014 through 2018." Lucy, Washington is also a city of less official memorials, the roadside memorials like the Ghost Bike at DuPont Circle. Can you talk a little bit about those?
KEMPFYeah. In some ways I think the roadside memorials are some of the most interesting. They're sort of very straightforward and simple yet powerful, universally recognized. I think there is something -- I'm quite profound about the idea that you could have a bike, a Ghost Bike here and one in Boston and understand immediately what it means. I know there are some who say we don't understand what some of our, you know, memorials mean. I think that Kirk Savage introduced a really interesting idea in monument wars which is the idea of a temporary memorial as a way of having a different kind of a conversation than what you have with some of our permanent memorials.
NNAMDIFor those people...
KEMPFAnd I think it's a good example of that.
NNAMDI...who are unaware of it, Ghost Bike was a bicycle chained up at DuPont Circle in 2008 and painted completely white. It was meant to memorialize a biker, Alice Swanson, hit by a trash truck and killed there. The city removed it, and so activists then chained dozens of ghost bikes all over DuPont. I believe that the one bike is still allowed to remain however. That's all the time we have.
NNAMDILucy Kemp is an urban planner, and the project manager for memorial policy at the National Capital Planning Commission. Thank you for joining us.
KEMPFYeah, thank you.
NNAMDIPhilip Kennicott is culture critic for the Washington Post. Phil Kennicott, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd Kirk Savage is a professor of history and of art and architecture at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of "Monument Wars: Washington D.C., the National Mall, and the Transformation of the Memorial Landscape." Kirk Savage, thank you for joining us.
SAVAGEThank you. It was a lot of fun.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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