The new PBS documentary series Iconic America: Our Symbols and Stories explores US history and identity through iconic national symbols. Washington, D.C. is home to some of America’s most iconic landmarks and historic sites, like the Washington Monument, the White House, and the Smithsonian Castle. But locals know that beyond the national landmarks, there are hundreds of lesser-known symbols and landmarks that make the city unique and hold the memories of its residents. Over the years, Boundary Stones has highlighted many of them.
For decades, the land on the western bank of the Potomac River that is currently home to the Pentagon, Ronald Reagan National Airport, Roache’s Run Bird Sanctuary, and part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway was disputed territory. Did it belong to Virginia? The District? No one seemed quite sure.
At the beginning of the First World War, the United States decided to undertake the largest shipbuilding effort in the nation's history. But before these ships could set sail, the war ended. Thus began the curse of the Ghost Fleet, a large group of unwanted ships that would eventually be abandoned in Mallows Bay on the Potomac. For decades many saw them as an eyesore and hazard. But after years of the neglect, the ships would eventually find their purpose -- in a most unexpected way.
Many international dignitaries were invited to attend the unknown soldier burial on Armistice Day in 1921, honoring those who had died in anonymity during World War I. However, the invitation of one of these guests, Chief Plenty Coups of the Crow tribe, carried a greater significance. His attendance represented the Native American contribution to the Great War as well as the contentious relationship between Native Americans and the United States government at the turn of the twentieth century.
Military leadership, including President Lincoln, saw the potential of military balloons, and the public believed they would change the landscape of the Civil War, aiding the Union’s eventual success. Only two years later though, what would be known as the “Balloon Corps” would be dissolved. So, what ended the use of this promising and successful aerial endeavor?
Walk up the spiral staircase at the GW Museum, take a right into the first gallery, and you will be met with a pair of large (5’ x 6’) bird-eye's-view paintings of Washington, DC. Both represent the capital city in the 1820s and, at first glance, the two works look very similar, with comparable coloring, landscape, and style. That’s not suprising as both were done by the same artist and, significantly, the two pieces share the same view – looking down on the District from Arlington Heights. But, upon closer examination, it becomes clear that the paintings represent different perspectives of the fledgling national Capitol – one aspirational, the other more realistic.
Around the same time that Walt Disney envisioned a futuristic alternative to urban living—EPCOT (The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow)—a man named Robert E. Simon Jr. dreamed of a better way to live in the suburbs. It was an era of hope when many were asking: “Through careful planning, innovate design, and high ideals, can we manufacture a better way to live?”
From July 4, 1798 to his death in 1799, George Washington served as Commander-in-Chief of the United States Army. Tensions with France were on the rise during the Quasi-War, so President John Adams appointed Washington to lead the nation’s armed forces.