Unless otherwise noted, all content and photos are © 2010-2021 Monumental Thoughts.
1. George Washington
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Harry S. Truman
Lyndon B. Johnson
John F. Kennedy
10. Thomas Jefferson
James K. Polk
Ulysses S. Grant
John Quincy Adams
William Howard Taft
20. Grover Cleveland
Richard M. Nixon
George H. W. Bush
Warren G. Harding
Rutherford B. Hayes
Martin Van Buren
30. Chester A. Arthur
James A. Garfield
George W. Bush
William Henry Harrison
40. Gerald Ford
Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration will be limited to guests, which is not the first time that has happened. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fourth inaugural was at the White House because of his failing health while Ronald Reagan’s second was indoors because of cold weather.
Of 24 past inaugural crowds I could find through newspaper accounts, Ronald Reagan in 1980 and George W. Bush in 1993 were the biggest by a Republican president at 500,000. Ironically, Reagan’s second swearing in was forced inside by frigid weather with the parade cancelled. Bush wasn’t re-elected.
Democrat Barack Obama’s 1.8 million in 2009 is the all-time leader. Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1.2 million in 1965 was more than double John F. Kennedy’s 500,000 in 1961. Obama’s second inaugural in 2013 drew 1 million while Bill Clinton’s 800,000 in 1993.
Kennedy ushered in the modern era of large inaugurations. Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural in 1861 drew only 30,000. Considering the city’s population was 20,000, that’s pretty impressive.
Second inaugurations are often one-third the size of the first. It’s simple logistics. Washington weather can be in the 30s in January. Coupled with hardly seeing anything, many people now opt to watch the second time on TV.
Here are live crowd counts based on newspaper reports.
2009: Barack Obama 1,800,000
1965: Lyndon B. Johnson 1,200,000
2013: Barack Obama 1,000,000
1993: Bill Clinton 800,000
1961: John F. Kennedy 500,000
1981: Ronald Reagan 500,000
2001: George W. Bush 500,000
2005: George W. Bush 400,000
1977: Jimmy Carter: 350,000
1973: Richard Nixon 300,000
1989: George Bush 300,000
1997: Bill Clinton 250,000
2017: Donald Trump 250,000* (Disputed)
1905: Teddy Roosevelt 200,000
1953: Dwight D. Eisenhower 200,000
1885: Grover Cleveland 150,000
1857: James Buchanan 150,000
1933: Franklin Delano Roosevelt 100,000
1853: Franklin Pierce 70,000
1841: William Henry Harrison 50,000
1929: Herbert Hoover 50,000
1829: Andrew Jackson 30,000
1861: Abraham Lincoln 30,000
1817: James Monroe 8,000
1873: Ulysses S. Grant, 2,000
1945: Franklin Delano Roosevelt 1,800 (Private ceremony)
1985: Ronald Reagan 1,000 (Indoors)
Navy commodore George Francis Cutter and his wife Mary Louisa Cutter rest in the rear of Arlington National Cemetery. The Section 1 memorial has an anchor atop a rocky memorial. It’s one of the more unusual markers in the cemetery that’s filled with unusual memorials.
Born 1819 in Massachusetts, began as a captain’s clerk in 1838. He became a prisoner when the USS Truxton wrecked in the Gulf of Mexico in August 1846 during the war with Mexico, but was part of a prisoner exchange four months later. Cutter worked his way up the ranks over the next 33 years before retiring in 1881. He died on Sept. 1, 1890.
Two Acacia Griffins protect the Acacia Mutual Life Insurance Building at 51 Louisiana Ave. N.W. in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol. The limestone sculptures by Edmond Romulus Amateis are 5 ½ feet wide, 4 ½ feet wide and 9 feet deep. The pair were placed by the main entranceway in 1936.
Griffins were fabled protectors of gold in Scythia, which was north of Greece. Seems the Arimaspians were always unsuccessfully trying to steal the gold only to be stopped by the griffins. Their image was used throughout medieval Europe as protectors.
These two statues have a female on the left and a male on the right holding eggs in their paws. The word acacia is traced to an ancient tree that symbolizes immortality.
This is a story that can feel personal. Of death and despair. Mark Twain and mistakes.
When you find the statue made by Augustus Saint-Gaudens in the middle of Section E of Rock Creek Cemetery, hidden within a tall square of bushes that makes it a sanctuary amid centuries of death, you’re invited to sit down. A large wwrap-around marble bench suspends time while as you look at her . . . or maybe it’s a him. We really don’t know.
Henry Adams asked Saint-Gaudens to create a memorial to his late wife Marian, who feared a prolonged death so much she drank poison to gain a quick one at age 42. Marian Adams was by many accounts a vivacious hostess who loved horseback riding and photography, but the recent death of her father proved fatal for her, too.
Saint-Gaudens was given free reign by Adams to create the sculpture. According to “Washington Sculpture” by James Goode, Saint-Gauden studied copies of Buddhas before creating the 6-foot bronze cloaked statue that gazes forever. Saint-Gaudens called it “Mystery of the Hereafter” while Adams called it “The Peace of God That Passeth Understanding.” And yet it was Twain who nicknamed the monument “Grief” that it is incorrectly known as today. Some just call it the “Adams Memorial.”
The monument was erected in 1890-91 and rededicated in 2002 after restoration.
Slavery and the American Indian wars were the 19th century blunders that we thought were behind us. And then World War II came with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.
The Memorial to Japanese-American Patriotism in World War II (maybe the longest titled monument in town) was erected in 2000 at Louisiana Ave., New Jersey Ave. and D St. N.W. near the U.S. Capitol to serve as a reminder the U.S. Constitution that protects our rights.
The elaborate park includes two bronze cranes entrapped in barbed wire, their wings unable to fly. The crane is a Japanese symbol of longevity. Granite wars include the names of 10 internment camps and 800 Japanese-American soldiers killed in the war.
Is something a secret if everyone that cared to know about it since 1941 indeed knows about it?
Visitors often asked about whether there are secret tunnels from the White House. They’re thinking of the 1993 movie “Dave” where a lookalike subbed for a president in a coma and slipped in and out of the White House.
Well, I don’t know about the one from the film, but there’s a passage that runs to an alley seen from H. St. across Lafayette Park. It has a gate and guardhouse protecting the alley so good luck trying to access the tunnel.
Supposedly, the tunnel was built in the 1941 that includes the Treasury Annex that may have been an equal reason for an underground passage to protect currency runners. World War II saw officials worried over FDR being vulnerable to aerial bombings. That a Congressman complained of its costs during a hearing made the tunnel public knowledge.
So, it’s no secret, but let’s just say not trying to see it is common knowledge.
When landscaping the U.S. Capitol grounds in 1874, Olmstead wanted to create things that were both aesthetic and functional. The walls were low so the public could see over them. Lanterns like the one shown above lit the grounds at night. The fountains now even have meters to lower the water pressure in heavy winds. Modern architects now call this type of landscaping as handscaping.
This photo is on the west side by the Peace Monument where many tour groups meet their bus. It’s a typical corner of the wall with a good look at the lantern.
Well, it wasn’t the best of years for tourism. In fact, the global pandemic has completely shut down Washington tourism since March. Just days from the start of the spring tour season, the government shut us down for a few weeks that has extended nine months with no end in sight.
Even worse, it looks like we’ll lose the spring season again as the vaccine program probably won’t permit free movement until the summer, which is too late for the lucrative spring season of school groups and conventions. Some experts say it will be 2024 before we’re back to 2019 levels. After all, when we’re finally past this pandemic, we’re all going somewhere fun like the beach, not a bunch of government buildings.
I don’t say this to whine. I’ve made peace that a tour business I spent a decade building has been obliterated. I’m not alone in losing a business. Getting older may not permit me the time to really rebuild. I may turn to some new tours in late 2021 involving food rather than the long days of touring the National Mall and other places that turned into 7 to 10-mile walks.
Anyway, my blog took a natural hit. About 10,000 visitors read Monumental Thoughts in 2020 versus 17,000 the past few years. That’s not surprising. What did surprise me was for the first time in nine years there was a new top story as my list of 101 Smithsonian exhibits to see surpassed what stones on graves meant. The German soldier from World War II buried at Arlington National Cemetery was third, followed by the Watergate steps and where John Wilkes Booth crossed the Potomac River.
Naturally, U.S. readers were the majority at 84 percent with China making a move to second followed by the United Kingdom, Canada and Germany respectively. Virginia was the most represented state followed by Washington, D.C., Maryland, California and Texas.
The year wasn’t a total loss, though. I created a podcast play “The Angel Among Us” that is an old-time radio show available free wherever you get podcasts. I also turned my tour skills into becoming an online teacher at OutSchool.com where I teach mostly about presidents. It has been interesting to work with kids, mostly elementary school age.
Above all, I’m just grateful none of my family or I suffered from the COVID pandemic. That’s all that matters.
So goodbye and good riddance to 2020. We’ll always look back with a wince when recalling this year. Hopefully, I’ll see you on the streets in 2021.
The World War II Submarine Memorial honoring those who served in the “Silent Service” faces the U.S. Navy Memorial near the Lone Sailor statue. The stained-glass window with a bronze frame is only seen from the outside because there’s a staircase inside.
A 8-by-10 foot work by sculptor Leo C. Irrera and stained glass artist R. Leo Pelkington, there are multiple scenes in the lives of World War II submariners. Fifty-two submarines with 3,505 sailors were lost during the war.
I’ve driven by this sculpture countless times, but usually at breakneck speed coming down the hill on Wilson Boulevard in Arlington trying to make the light. Finally, I was walking nearby so I had to see it up close.
I still don’t know what to make of it.
Cupid’s Garden is a massive 25 feet high, 60 feet long stainless steel abstract by sculptor Christopher Gardner. It has 23 arrows coming from different directions (hence Cupid).
The shiny structure can be a pain to drivers with its sun reflection so be careful if walking over to it. Guess everyone is blind to the sculpture’s beauty.
And the best is for last – the German Shepherd is one panel from the right end. The 26th Scout Dog Platoon arrived in Korea in May 1951. They were used for sentry duty and taught to silently warn guards of coming enemy when barking would have tipped Koreans that Americans knew they were coming.
The dogs worked mostly nights and rotated to work every four days not to overtax them. The 1,500 dogs used during the war had one problem – the wind and terrain made it difficult for them to use their sense of smell to distinguish the enemy.
UPDATE: The man with the dog on the wall was Raymond Donnelly, Jr., whose son Tripp contacted me with more information. A Massachusetts native, Donnelly was in the the 24th Infantry Division’s highly-decorated 5th Regimental Combat Team, Intelligence and Reconnaissance Group. He was the only member of his 19-member training class to survive the war.
Donnelly later worked at several major U.S. newspapers as an editor and compositor while also serving on presidential campaigns of John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy plus Hubert Humphrey and Sen. Scoop Jackson. Donnelly also served as a director of the Democratic National Convention and with NASA before retiring to work on the Korean War Veterans Memorial organization. He died in 2003 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
John Rodgers Meigs was the third generation of a proud military family. His grandfather was Commodore John Rodgers, a naval officer in the War of 1812. His father was Major Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs, who’s buried aside his son.
Meigs was a West Pointer who left to serve as an aide-de-camp of General Philip Sheridan during the First Battle of Bull Run before later graduating first in his 1863 class.
Meigs served at Gettysburg and the Shenandoah Valley, rising to brevetted captain and major for gallantry. On Oct. 3, 1864, Meigs and two others went against three Confederate cavalrymen outside Dayton, Va. Meigs were killed and Sheridan burned 30 homes and barns in retaliation before learning it was a fair fight and not Confederate guerillas executing Meigs. Still, Meigs’ father posted a $1,000 for the killer even after the war’s end.