I went and took images at Arlington National Cemetery on September 4, 2011, and again on September 10, 2011. Two full days spent walking around a 1,000-acre cemetery with 30 steep hills, in 90-degree heat and 60 percent humidity.
I posted most of these in September and early October 2011, but then got bogged down. Uploading these took a couple bhours. Describing them took a 30 days..
I like to know what it is that I'm photographing, especially when it comes to architecture, monuments, and historical images. I mean, if it's worth photographing -- surely there must be something to learn about it other than it's just a nice building with lovely sunlight dappling and shadows.
I had to learn more about the history of the place: When things were built, why, by whom, and what their significance was.
Most of the final images were of Arlington House (the Robert E. Lee Memorial), the view from the house, the Custis Walk, the John F. Kennedy grave site, the William Howard Taft grave site, and the Schley Gate (one of the ceremonial gates at the entrance to the cemetery).
Some of the descriptive stuff I knew already. I knew that L'Enfant had not been buried at Arlington originally (he died decades before the cemetery even existed), and I knew that he'd been reburied there in the 1910s. It wasn't hard to look up those dates, but it was interesting to find out that no one notable designed his tomb. That was done by the Commissioners of the District of Columbia! I knew that Arlington House had been damaged by the August 23 earthquake, although the extent wasn't clear to me. Now, from reports in November 2011, it seems that the mansion has been damaged quite a bit more than anyone thought. But there is no money to fix it, and the National Park Service is saying it'll remain closed to the public for years. Wow...
I had to do a lot of research on Custis Walk. It's clearly marked on maps, and the name quite obviously comes from the Custis family that owned the estate before Robert E. Lee's wife inherited it. (By the way, what a nasty woman she must have been: Deeply religious, but also deeply committed to slavery. Here's a woman who firmly believed that "Jesus told me to keep darkie enslaved." Wow. That's not just twisted, it's dangerous.) i knew who William Howard Taft was, but had no idea why he was in Arlington.
That's the sort of stuff I learned about.
* * * * * * *
Something that's been killing me, though, since September has been something called Sheridan Gate.
Here's what the Sheridan Gate was:
In 1800, two red brick buildings were built on the southeast and southwest of the White House. These identical buildings housed the Departments of Treasury (to the east) and State and War (to the west). In 1818, architect James Hoban built two more buildings, just north of the existing ones (and fronting on Pennsylvania Avenue): the State Department to the east and the War Department to the west (where the Old Executive Office Building is today). The State Department building was razed in 1866 to make room for expansion of the Treasury Building. The War Department building was razed in 1879 and the Navy Department building in 1884 to make way for the State, War, and Navy Departments Building, designed by Alfred B. Mullet. This building today is known as the Old Executive Office Building.
The War Department Building was designed by Hoban, based on designed by the British architect George Hadfield. The red brick building featured a portico supported by six white marble columns designed in the Ionic style. It is likely that the men who carved the ornaments on the White House also carved the columns and entablature of the War Department Building.
The columns were due to be destroyed in 1879 along with the 61-year-old brick building.
Meanwhile, Montgomery C. Meigs was in charge of Arlington National Cemetery. Meigs had been Quartermaster General of the U.S. Army during the Civil War, and had established Arlington National Cemetery. Although by 1879 he'd been promoted up and out of the job of Quartermaster General, he still retained control over the cemetery. Meigs was an avid Unionist, and was determined to turn Arlington from a livable estate into a shrine for America's Civil War heroes. He'd already built several war shrines on the Arlington property, and was determined to build more.
When Meigs learned that the massive marble columns were to be destroyed, he asked the Secretary of War for permission to transfer the columns as well as a large portion of the marble pediment they supported to the cemetery's control. In April 1879, the War Department's north portico was dismantled and moved to Arlington.
It's not entirely clear who designed Sheridan Gate out of the pieces of the War Department's north portico. Meigs claimed sole responsibility, but he probably did not do it alone. True, Meigs was an architect and engineer, but fragmentary evidence indicates that Lt. Colonel Thomas Lincoln Casey of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers probably helped. Meigs also consulted Washington, D.C., architect John L. Smithmeyer. Smithmeyer had constructed The Rostrum for the Old Amphitheater at Arlington, and knew Meigs and his aesthetic tastes well. Smithmeyer designed the wrought iron gates which were hung between the columns, and the D.C. firm of Charles A. Schneider and Sons constructed and installed them.
In April 1880, Meigs, Casey, and Smithmeyer finally settled on the design specifications for the gates. Arlington already was bounded by a low red sandstone wall. The same red sandstone would be used to build large square plinths to support the columns, two on each side. The pediment and its blank frieze would be placed atop the columns, in a post-and-lintel format. Wrought iron gates, painted black, would be hung from the plinths. The designers had initially considered hanging a large bronze plaque from the center of the gate on which an inscription would be made. But by April 1880 this plaque had been abandoned.
The gateway in the red Seneca sandstone wall was cut in July 1879, and the plinths constructed. The columns were placed on the plinth, and the pediment on the columns. But shortly thereafter, a portion of the cornice collapsed. The historic pediment was damaged, but it was repaired and the broken marble pieces secured in place with lead toggles. The iron gates were installed in July 1881.
The gate (which as yet had no name) stood 34 feet, 2.5 inches high. Each of the columns had six segments, and was 23 feet high and 3 feet, 8 inches in diameter. Masonic symbols were carved into the columns, most likely by the original quarriers and carvers. The distance between the plinths was 12 feet across. Each red sandstone plinth was 11 feet wide and 4 feet deep, and rested on stone piers. The pediment across the top of the gate was 32 feet wide. The frieze was only 28 feet wide, and set back by 3 feet, one-quarter inch from the front and back. A row of 83 dentils (knobs) ran across the front and back, with nine on each end. A cornice cap (lip) ran around the middle of the pediment, and was 37 feet wide. The pediment was held in place with bolts. After the cornice collapsed in 1879, lengthwise holes were drilled through the pediment. Iron I-beams were inserted into the holes to reinforce the masonry.
The lower portion of the pediment (below the cornice cap) normally would have been decorated with bas-relief classical figures. Instead, Meigs had the following inscription carved into the frieze:
Six Columns Erected In The Portico Of The War Office, Washington, In 1818, Were On The Demolition Of Tha Building In April, 1879, Transferred To The Gateways Of This Arlington National Military Cemetery.Each of the letters was 5 inches high. Each of the columns was to be inscribed with the name of a Union Civil War hero. Meigs had already settled on three of the names by the time the gate was constructed. They were, left to right, Scott (for General Winfield Scott, U.S. Army Chief of Staff), Lincoln (for President Abraham Lincoln), and Stanton (for Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton). Meigs considered inscribing the last name of James Garfield, a Union general who had gone into post-war politics (and later would be President of the United States), but was not sure if Garfield's military stature merited such an honor. So the column was left temporarily blank.
The wrought iron gates folded in the middle, and were hung on wrought iron posts set into the stone piers. Artwork on the gates included scrolls, palmettes, and rosettes. In the center of each side of the gate was a shield device based on the Great Seal of the United States, pierced with four swords and four daggers. Around each shield device were inscribed the words "dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" ("it is sweet and noble to die for your country").
In 1882, the iron gates were vandalized. That same year, the city of Alexandria asked that Garfield's name be inscribed on the blank column, but Meigs declined the request. When Ulysses S. Grant died in 1885, his was the name carved into the fourth column instead of
Garfield's. When Union General Philip Sheridan died in 1888, his name was carved onto the
entablature. Each of the letters in Sheridan's name were 11 inches high.
From this inscription, the center gateway became known as the "Sheridan Gate."
Repairs to the gates and lettering were made in 1888, and again in 1890. The stonework and lettering were repaired again in 1902, and the columns painted with a heavy mixture of lead and white paint. The gates were also slightly gilded with gold at this time.
In 1905, 1906, and 1915, heavy rain damaged approach to the Sheridan Gate.
Arlington National Cemetery did not use all of the former Arlington Estate when it was founded. Most of the cemetery was originally around Arlington House, and against the wall with adjoining Ft. Myer. But in time, all of the estate west of the Georgetown & Alexandria Turnpike (later known as "Arlington Ridge Road") was occupied by the cemetery. The area east of the turnpike was largely meadow, but in 1900 this land was transferred from the Army to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for use as an experimental farm.
In 1964, Arlington National Cemetery underwent its first major expansion since the Civil War. The 200 acres east of Arlington Ridge Road were transferred to the cemetery, and the road closed. (Most of the road was turned into Eisenhower Drive in the middle of the cemetery.)
The red Seneca sandstone wall, now deep in the interior of the cemetery, was dismantled. Sheridan Gate was no longer needed any more.
In 1971, the cemetery paid the firm of Roubin and Janerio, to dismantle Sheridan Gate. Unfortunately, the iron gates were lost after the dismantling, and are feared lost forever. Because the iron toggles and I-beams were meant to be permanent, the marble pediment was severaly damaged when the gate was dismantled.
The pieces of what remained of Sheridan Gate placed in outdoor storage near some maintenance buildings at the south end of the cemetery. Unfortunately, this was a terrible way to store them. Water penetrated the marble and sandstone pieces where they rested on the bare ground, causing extensive discoloration, cracking, and crumbling. The paint on the columns inhibited water evaporation, caused the columns to suffer even more damage. What remains of the ironwork is heavily rusted, and the columns and pediment have been spraypainted by vandals.
But exactly where was Sheridan Gate located???????????????????????????
That's a good question.
We know from descriptions that Sheridan Gate was located "along" Arlington Ridge Road. But pictures of the gate clearly show that it was not actually on the road, but set back some distance. But how far back??
And where was the gate actually located along the road? Luckily, we have some idea. We know that in 1890, the Washington, Alexandria, and Mount Vernon Railway -- a regional trolley company -- built a trolley station at what is now the Hemicycle (the ceremonial main entrance to the cemetery that was constructed in 1932). But Arlington National Cemetery is set up on several high, steep ridges. Although there are a number of roads leading from the Potomac River up the ridges, these are pretty steep grades. It was difficult for people to walk up the roads and reach the cemetery.
In 1893, Arlington officials built a concrete walkway from Arlington House down to Sheridan Gate to accommodate the trolley passengers. Known as "Custis Walk," this walkway contained hundreds of steps to make mounting the grade easier, and wound right and left to lessen the steepness of the grade.
But did Custis Walk lead directly to Sheridan Gate? Oddly, it appears not. Reports from tourist groups (like Boy Scouts and veterans groups) traveling to the cemetery include statements to the effect that people had to walk a short distance the trolley station to Sheridan Gate, and from Sheridan Gate to Custis Walk.
So was Sheridan Gate north or south of the Hemicycle? Was it near Custis Walk or not? I even checked the Historic American Buildings Survey of the Library of Congress. This is the most extensive, detailed, complex history of the Sheridan Gate around. And it includes not a single map, coordinate, or even description of the location of the gate!!!!
Well, I totally lucked out. After three months of searching, I located a 1934 map of the cemetery which actually showed the location of Sheridan Gate!
There were two other "main gates" at the cemetery at the time, too. McClellan Gate still exists, and was not dismantled. Ord & Weitzel Gate, however, was dismantled (even though it wasn't affected by the cemetery's expansion) and its columns put into storage as well. At least something of Ord & Weitzel Gate remains, although it is a shadow of its former self.