Column: What are monuments really for?

People ask me: “So Ben, what’s the biggest difference between D.C. and Omaha, your hometown?”

There are of course many answers. D.C. has more people, noise and umbrellas. Honestly, it has been so rainy lately there are fish drowning.

With perhaps the exception of the District’s daily deluge, the other things can be found in any big metropolitan area. The big difference is the number of monuments in this city. You cannot walk five feet in this city without tripping over one. Seriously, on the way back to my dorm last night I fell over the Chester A. Arthur Memorial Place To Trip Over In The Middle Of The G Street Sidewalk Between 23rd And 25th Street.

On the way to the Marvin Center this morning I learned that through the heart of our campus runs the middle of the Western Hemisphere. How did I know that? There was a monument telling me so.

“Wow,” I thought, “that’s pretty darn cool.” This means our campus is home to the halfway point of two imaginary lines drawn by people sitting in an observatory in Greenwich, England, who thought they were the center of the world. Impressive indeed. Had U.S. News and World Report known that, there would be no doubt GW would have been ranked in the top 50.

On the sidewalk next to the monument there is a little strip to show where the exact middle runs. Unfortunately, the line ends where the street starts. If it were a really cool monument I suppose it would wrap around the world. That would make the Washington Monument look puny by comparison. Maybe some other university at this longitude has a similar plaque to continue the line.

For some reason, this marker isn’t on the top of the list for most tourists. I can’t find it in any of the guidebooks. The Mall is the monumental place to be.

There is the Lincoln Memorial, a proud and solemn testimony to President Lincoln’s vision of equality. They also have a nice gift shop there.

Across from the Lincoln Memorial is the Washington Monument. It’s a landmark that needs no gift shop, because there is no room for one.

This is how the monument is described on the National Park Service’s web site:

“Just as Washington’s tall frame stood above his fellow patriots, the monument towers above the skyline like a mighty watchman. With its red glowing eyes blinking quietly, it watches over its namesake’s city.”

Translation: We wanted to build something really, really tall.

It is true that our first president was taller than the average man of his day, but a person’s height should hardly be the decisive factor in building structures to honor them. Were that true, Paris’ Arche de Triomphe built by Napoleon would barely get off the ground.

A greater monument to Washington or Lincoln is a museum or library, places where people can see first hand what they accomplished and learn about it. A greater monument still is perhaps the freedom and prosperity we enjoy in this country because of their vision and determination.

It is not that I do not I appreciate these monuments. I think they are architectural masterpieces. I value them more as structural works of art than I do edifices to a person. They are not devoid of educational value either. No doubt a visit to a monument has sparked many a visitor’s curiosity that has lead to more study.

Monuments are nice. But, it’s better that we should remember what the monument is dedicated to, even if it is the halfway point of the western hemisphere.

-The writer is a freshman majoring in political science.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.