Community remembers history behind George Washington sculpture

This past Monday may have been George Washington’s 278th birthday, but it also marked the 150th anniversary of a different form of George – the dedication of the George Washington statue that stands in Washington Circle just north of GW Hospital.

According to the National Park Service Web site, the statue was dedicated in 1860 and was sculpted by Clark Mills, who also sculpted the statue of Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Park and the statue “Freedom” on top of the capitol dome.

Jason Bezis, a GW alumnus who graduated in 1995 with a degree in Business Administration, has extensively researched the statue and said the dedication ceremony was an extravagant affair, with then-President James Buchanan unveiling the statue and speaking at the ceremony.

“The dedication of the statue on Feb. 22, 1860 was one of the last events of national unity before the Civil War,” Bezis said in an e-mail. “It came at a moment of great tension as John Brown’s failed raid on Harper’s Ferry occurred just a few months earlier.”

Marv Solberg, who runs a Web site called DCMemorials.com, said that the original plan called for the statue -which depicts Washington at the Battle of Princeton, New Jersey in 1777 -to be located just east of the Washington Memorial on an elaborate pedestal with three tiers of sculptured relief panels and four smaller equestrian statues depicting Washington’s generals. Lack of finances forced a scaled-down version of the statue, and the total cost of the statue came out to $60,000 – equivalent to about $1.6 million today.

Solberg said in an e-mail that despite the fanfare surrounding the statues dedication, it still received a fair amount of criticism.

“Critics of the statue said the horse looks unnatural because Washington’s calm look is incongruous with the panic shown by the horse,” Solberg said

Bezis also said it was fitting that GW came to be located near the statue in Washington Circle. At the time of the statue’s dedication, Columbian College, as GW was previously named, operated near Columbia Heights, not Foggy Bottom.

Senior Mike Valerio said he has noticed the statue, but believes that its surroundings detract from the statue’s beauty.

“I think that a lot of the buildings surrounding the statue are really ugly, and I hope that when Square 54 is finished it will make the setting more impressive.”

Bezis said he has tried to get the National Park Service to install signs in the circle explaining the statue’s history.

“The Park Service said that it didn’t have the budget to do so,” Bezis said. “I hope that this 150th anniversary in 2010 will help this materialize now.”

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