Poet-ic Statues

April is National Poetry Month. And along with the 30 ways to celebrate national poetry month, there are also memorials you can visit in Washington, D.C. that honor poets.

Four statues honor poets in D.C., Henry Wordsworth Longfellow, Dante Alighieri,Kahlil Gibran, and Taras Schevchenko. All are located in the northwest quadrant, and the styles range from simple to elaborate.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807 – 1882


It took twelve years for the Longfellow National Memorial Association to erect a monument to Longfellow, which was the first memorial in Washington, D.C. to honor an American literary figure.

Longfellow was considered one of America’s greatest poets of the 19th century. He was born in Maine (Massachusetts at the time) and was educated at Bowdoin where he later taught. He then moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts where he taught at Harvard University.

Longfellow’s first published work, in 1935, was a travelogue, Outre-Mer: A Pilgramage Beyond the Sea. He continued to publish prose, however, he gained fame with the publication of Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie in 1847, and The Song of Hiawatha in 1855. In 1860, he published Tales of a Wayside Inn that included the poem “Paul Revere’s Ride”, which became one of his best known and most widely read poems. The poem begins:

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

Longfellow is also remembered for his translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy. He spent several years translating the Divine Comedy, and started the “Dante Club”, that met regularly to discuss the the Divine Comedy and help Longfellow with translating. The translation was published in 1867.

The statue was the first full-sized statue of Longfellow. The statue represents Longfellow with a book in hand, and is placed on a block of Bonacord granite brought from Sweden and carved in Scotland.

Dante Alighieri, Italian poet, 1265 – 1321


The Dante statue stands on the 15th street side of the lower park of Meridian Hill Park, in an area originally called “Poet’s Corner”.

Dante Alighieri was a major Italian poet who wrote the Divine Comedy (Divina Commedia) considered one of the greatest poems of the Middle Ages.

Although commanding, the statue is twelve feet high, and the pedestal is 9 feet high, the memorial consists only of the statue and is located at the terminus of the minor cross access. There are four benches around the statue.

The statue of Dante was given to the city by Chevalier Carlo Barsotti, president of the Dante commission of New York. It was designed by Italian sculptor Ettore Ximenes, and is a replica of the Dante statue in New York City.

The statue, unveiled on December 1, 1921, shows Dante wrapped in a long cape, with a book under his arm.

Kahlil Gibran, 1883 – 1931

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Gibran was a Lebanese-American who is best know for his 1923 book The Prophet. He also was an accomplished visual artist in drawing and watercolor.

The Gibran memorial is a peaceful, recessed 2-acres at 3100 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, across from the British Embassy. To get to the memorial one has to cross a foot-bridge that leads to the entrance area decorated with a bust of the poet, a water feature and a dove.

In the center of the memorial is a fountain surrounded by concrete benches. Inscribed in the benches are quotes by Gibran. The memorial is peaceful despite the Massachusetts Avenue traffic, and is especially beautiful in the spring when the flowers and azaleas are in bloom.

Taras Shevchenko, 1814 – 1861


The controversial statue of Taras Shevchenko, the 19th century Ukrainian poet, was put in place in early June 1964 at the triangle park at 22nd and P Streets, NW.

Shevchenko was a Ukrainian poet, writer, artist, public and political figure. His literary heritage is regarded to be the foundation of modern Ukrainian literature.

The Shevchenko statue was unveiled during the 150th anniversary of the poet’s birth. The anniversary was also marked in the Soviet Union with festivities and the unveiling of a Shevchenko statue there. Sponsored by anti-Communist Ukrainian-American groups, the Shevchenko memorial was opposed by many Americans on the grounds that the poet was both anti-Semitic and the idol of the Communist Party.


John Ericsson

Statue: John Ericsson
Location: West Potomac Park, 23rd Street and Ohio Drive, SW
Sculptor: James Earle Fraser
Dedication: May 29, 1926
Cost to Taxpayer: $35,000

One year after the death of John Ericsson a bill requesting $30,000 for a memorial to him was proposed in the Senate and referred to the House Library Committee. Apparently it never made it out of committee because in 1912 another bill was proposed for a memorial, this time for $100,000. And again in December 1915, Senator O’Gorman of New York introduced a bill for funding a memorial.

Then in July 1916 a bill requesting $35,000 for the memorial, was favorably reported out of the House Library Committee.

Captain John Ericsson was born in 1803 and died in New York City in 1889. He came to the United States in 1839, after spending some time in London, England, and was naturalized in 1848. During his lifetime he was well-known for engineering. However, he was most famous for building the Monitor – the first iron-clad warship commissioned by the U.S. Navy.

He was buried in New York City, but soon after, and at the request of the Swedish government, his remains were sent to Sweden to be interred there.

Memorial Design

In May 1919, The Evening Star reported that the memorial to Ericsson was being created by David Edstrom, a Scandinavian sculptor living in the U.S., and was described as a modern “Run Sten,” which is a Scandinavian memorial stone that was raised over the dead.

The 1919 plan was to incorporate eight scenes from Ericsson’s life divided into four periods, so that each period will show a relief on the front side of the monument and one on the back. The first relief was childhood, the second Ericsson as a soldier, the third as a master inventor and scientist in England, and the fourth period would be symbolized by the Monitor and the Merrimac in the morning before they battled. The monument would also include a bust of Ericsson.

However, in June of 1920 it was reported in The Evening Star that not only had the location of the memorial to Ericsson moved to the south of the Lincoln Memorial, not the west, but that the artist creating the sculpture was James Earle Fraser.

Fraser’s memorial design, as described in 1920, included a circular floor of 50’ x 50’ on which are inlaid in bronze the points of the mariner’s compass. On top of the circle is a square base of 20’x20’, and on top of that is an even smaller square. The figure of Ericsson is seated and is placed on the larger square, with his elbow resting on the base with a clenched fist. The inscription is to read “In appreciation. John Ericsson, Inventor and Builder of the Monitor: He Revolutionized Navigation by His Invention of the Screw Propeller.”

Rising from the middle of the base are three symbolic figures, and in the center of them is the Tree Yggdrsill.

The three symbolic figures of Vision, Adventure and Labor are suggestive of the circle of thought and action that is required to create and invent, and are made a unit by the mutual relation to the Tree of Life.

Behind Ericsson is Vision a symbolic figure of a woman embodying inspiration. Next is the figure is Adventure, a Norse hero, with a shield and sword, and a winged helmet. And then there is Labor pictured as an iron worker such as those who worked as a vulcan-artificer during the Civil War.

Dedication Ceremony

The dedication took place on May 29, 1926, and was followed by a banquet held at the Willard Hotel. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover addressed the crowd that was made up of members of the American Society of Swedish Engineers and members of Congress.

The memorial hadn’t been completed by the time of the ceremony and the unveiling revealed plaster casts that had been tinted pink to represent the pink granite that will compose the final product.

The memorial had taken a while to pass through Congress, and almost as long to be completed. The first site chosen, just west of the Lincoln Memorial later became part of the Memorial Bridge and Rock Creek Bridge area. The final site was selected after the completion of the Memorial Bridge plans and was south of the Lincoln Memorial.

About Ericsson

During the American Civil War, Ericsson built the first iron-clad battleship named the Monitor. It was completed in 100 days, and was made with revolving turrets for guns. After the victory of the Monitor against the Merrimac (the Confederate iron-clad) other iron-clad ships similar to the Monitor were then built. In Charleston harbor six were built in 52 days.

Although best remembered as the engineer of the iron-clad, Ericsson spent a lifetime studying engineering and inventing things. Among the other engineering items were an instrument for measuring distances at sea; the hydrostatic gauge for measuring the quantity of water which passes through pipes during a given period; the alarm barometer; the pirometer, intended as the standard measure of temperature from the freezing point of water to the melting point of iron; a rotary fluid measure to measure the volocity of fluids passing through pipes of different dimensions and a deep-sea lead, contrived for taking soundings at sea without stopping the vessel’s way and independent of the lead line. He also devoted his later years to “making direct use of the enormous dynamic force stored up in the sun’s rays. To make the enormous and as yet unused dynamic force of this radiant heat available for man’s use,” according to a report in The Evening Star.

Theodore R. Timby

In researching Ericsson and the creation of the monitor, the name Theodore R. Timby of New York comes up a lot. Timby invented the turrets that were placed on the monitor and held guns. The revolving turret was invented and patented by Mr. Timby, and he was paid $5,000 to use the invention. Timby later wrote a letter to the editors of the The Evening Star stating that he supported a memorial to Ericsson and that he would donate $100 to such a memorial. He also stated that he would contribute $500 to a fund for “the erection of a broader and a higher monument to three others, greater heroes of the late war, namely: Hon. John F. Winslow, of Poughkeepsie, N.Y.; Hon. C.S. Bushnell, of New Haven, Conn., and the late Hon. John A. Griswold, of Troy, N.Y., for their courage, patriotism, and liberality in pouring out their millions of gold (at their risk) for the construction of the original Monitor and other kindred vessels in the perilous early days of the rebellion.”

Mary McLeod Bethune

Statue: Mary McLeod Bethune (July 10, 1875 – May 18, 1955)
Location: Lincoln Park, 12th and East Capitol Streets, SE
Dedication: July 10, 1974, 10:30am
Sculptor: Robert Berks
Cost to Taxpayer: $0, $100,000 raised and contributed by the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW)

On July 10, 1974, on what would have been Mary Bethune’s 99th birthday a statue of her was unveiled in Lincoln Park at 12th and East Capitol Streets, SE.

The dedication in Lincoln Park was filled with an estimated 18,000 people from all over the country.  The ceremony included Cicely Tyson reading Mary Bethune’s last will and testament and the statue unveiling.

Following the unveiling, there was a parade from the D.C. Armory to the West Capitol steps where the crowd met with Vice President Gerald Ford and Speaker of the House Carl Albert. Also in attendance were Mrs. King, and Representatives Shirley Chisholm of New York, Barbara Jordan of Texas, and Yvonne Burke of California, the three African-American members of the House at that time.

The dedication celebration lasted three days and included an awards ceremony for African-American women and a concert at the Kennedy Center.

The National Park Service improved Lincoln Park before the ceremony adding benches, trees, and walkways. The Washington Post also reported that the Lincoln Emancipation memorial, 200 yards away from the Bethune statue, was turned so that it face the new memorial.

Memorial Design

The 17-foot bronze statue was sculpted by Robert Berks whose signature styling can be seen at the Kennedy Center in the bust of John F. Kennedy and on Constitution Avenue at the statue for Einstein.

The statue was the first memorial to an African-American women to be erected in a public park in the nation’s capital. The memorial depicts Mary McLeod Bethune standing with a long coat leaning on a cane with her right hand and handing off a scroll to two children.

The cane, presumably, would be a representation of the cane that Elinor Roosevelt gifted to Bethune after the death of FDR. The scroll of learning or knowledge is being handed down to the youths so that they can benefit from education.

The three figures of the statue are placed on a tiered pedestal that forms a table.


I leave you love. I leave you hope. I leave you the challenge of developing confidence in one another. I leave you a thirst for education. I leave you a respect for the use of power. I leave you faith. I leave you racial dignity. I leave you a desire to live harmoniously with your fellow men. I leave you a responsibility to our young people.

About Mary Bethune

Mary McLeod Bethune was an educator and a champion of civil rights. She was born in Mayesville, S.C., one of 17 children and her parents, former slaves, were sharecroppers. Despite beginning her education at the age of eleven, she graduated from Scotia Seminary in Concord, N.C. and Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.

She founded the Daytona Normal and Industrial School for Negro Girls, in 1904, which later became Bethune-Cookman College, and served as president for 40 years.

In 1936, Bethune joined President Roosevelt’s National Youth Administration as director of the Office of Negro Affairs.

Mary McLeod Bethune also founded the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) in 1935 to represent national and international concerns of Black women.  In 1957, Dorothy Irene Height, became its fourth president, and organized the raising of funds for a memorial to Bethune. After Bethune’s death, the NCNW raised $400,000 for a memorial to her. All the contributions came from private citizens.


Honoring Mary Bethune: A Proud, Principled Woman, The Washington Post, July 8, 1974

Black Leader’s Statue Unveiled: Mary Bethune Day, by Erwin Washington. The Washington Post; Jul 11, 1974.

Guglielmo Marconi

Statue: Guglielmo Marconi,  April 25, 1874 – July 20, 1937
Location: 16th Street and Lamont Street, NW
Sculptor: Attilio Piccarilli
Architect: Joseph H. Freedlander
Landscape Architect: Joseph C. Gardner
Dedication: Scheduled for the Fall 1941
Cost to Taxpayer: $0, $35,000 raised and contributed by the Marconi Memorial Foundation, Inc. New York

Within months after the death of Guglielmo Marconi there were many people and groups that wanted a memorial to be built to the father of wireless telegraphy.

In August 1937, Representative Dickstein, (D-N.Y.) introduced a resolution calling for the designation of an appropriate memorial for Marconi. In April 1938 President Roosevelt signed a bill authorizing a memorial to Marconi. In 1940, during their thirtieth anniversary meeting, the Commission of Fine Arts approved the plans for the Marconi memorial. And in 1941 the Office of National Capital Parks approved the location at 16th and Lamont Streets.

The memorial cost about $32,555 and was paid for by the Marconi Memorial Foundation. The Foundation, created shortly after the death of Marconi, was headed by Generoso Pope owner of two Italian-language newspapers in New York who organized the memorial funding through contributions.

According to The (Washington) Evening Star, the statue was a gift to the American people as a “token of [American Italians] loyalty and devotion to the United States and its free institutions.”

Marconi was born in Bologna, Italy in 1874 and died in 1937. He took out the first patent on wireless telegraphy based on electric waves in England in 1896.

The statue consists of a pair of pedestals on a granite base. A bronze bust of the inventor, 3 feet 8 inches in height, sits on the smaller pedestal, which is 7 feet high. The memorial is topped with a gilded bronze figure of a woman atop a globe, representing electric waves.

The statue is unique in that it is dedicated to a person associated with technology.

The memorial was scheduled for installation in the Fall of 1941.

The inscription reads:

Erected by popular subscription and presented to the City of Washington

By The Marconi Memorial Foundation



D.C. Fine Arts commission 30 Years Old: Makes Anniversary By Approving Plans of Marconi, The Washington Post, May 18, 1940, pg 13

Marconi Memorial to be Erected Here, The Washington Post, March 13, 1941

Marconi to Be Honored, The Washington Post, April 15, 1938

Washington to get Marconi Monument: Of Granite and Bronze, It Will Be Unveiled This Spring, New York Times; Mar 13, 1941; pg. 44