See lesser-known Washington memorials
Albert Einstein sits on a white granite bench in downtown Washington, D.C., with a notebook in hand and a pensive look on his bronze face. But the four-ton, 12-foot statue of the world-famous physicist is often overlooked by tourists and locals, despite its location in front of the National Academy of Sciences, just across the street from the National Mall.
Of course, many of D.C.’s large, imposing monuments, such as those honoring Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, are familiar. But sprinkled around the city are many intriguing hidden gems. This spring, safely explore these free outdoor sites.
Vietnam Women’s Memorial
A short walk from the Einstein Memorial is the acclaimed Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Just south of Maya Lin’s famous wall, however, is the lesser-known Vietnam Women’s Memorial, recognizing the 265,000 women who served in that war.
Titled “Legacy of Healing and Hope” and designed by Glenna Goodacre, it is the first memorial in Washington to honor military women. The 15-foot bronze sculpture depicts three women caring for a wounded soldier.
Women served as nurses, doctors, air traffic controllers and in many other roles in the Vietnam War. Nurses tended to more than 300,000 service members in the war, saving almost 98% of those who reached hospitals.
Korean War Veterans Memorial
A short walk from there, a stainless-steel squad of 19 soldiers on patrol is a striking reminder of military service at the Korean War Veterans Memorial. The soldiers are depicted trampling over granite strips amid scrubby junipers that suggest Korea’s rugged terrain. Their windblown ponchos recall the harsh weather they endured.
A polished black granite wall displays etched images of the faces of Americans who served. On it, a plaque reads, “Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and people they never met.”
Lyndon Johnson was a big man full of bravado, but the capital’s tribute to him is anything but. The quiet Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove is co-located with Lady Bird Johnson Park on what used to be called Columbia Island. It lies alongside the Potomac River, with a view of the city’s more famous monuments in the distance.
“President Johnson came here often when he needed to escape,” notes the National Park Service’s website. “After he died, his wife chose this place for his memorial.” The entire island was later named for her and much of it landscaped in homage to her advocacy for highway beautification.
M. Meade Palmer designed a living memorial of pine trees, azaleas and winding paths against the backdrop of the river, recalling the Johnsons’ strong ties to the natural setting of their Texas ranch. The site is accessible by car and footbridge from the George Washington Memorial Parkway.
Two colorful totems and a crossbar carved from giant red cedar trees are attention grabbers looming above the tombstones in the Congressional Cemetery, the resting place for some former members of Congress, J. Edgar Hoover, John Philip Sousa, other luminaries and less eminent souls.
Called 9/11 Healing Poles, the totems, carved by Native American artist Jewel Praying Wolf James, are gifts from Washington state’s Lummi Nation to honor the 2001 terrorist attack’s victims. In the crossbar’s center, a turtle with a piercing stare symbolizes the Piscataway Tribe, whose homeland was along the Anacostia River. (Although Congressional Cemetery is currently closed to the public, the Healing Poles are easy to spot.)
The 127-foot Netherlands Carillon in Arlington, Virginia, was a thank-you gift from the Netherlands for U.S. help during World War II. In the spring, tulips bloom around the tower.
The Royal Netherlands Embassy, which operates the bell tower, sent its bells to a Dutch foundry for restoration. The foundry will cast three new bells dedicated to George C. Marshall, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Eleanor Roosevelt.
Later this year, the new bells will be added to the current 50 bells, and free, automated daily concerts will resume.
The U.S. Capitol’s grounds, a 58-acre park landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1874, may be the stage for protests, but it is also an accredited arboretum with more than 100 labeled varieties of trees and shrubs, many gifts from states.
In the west front lawn of the Capitol is the hexagon-shaped Summerhouse, an open-air brick structure Olmsted completed in 1880. It’s surrounded by a grotto and rocky stream, and its park benches and fountain provide a place of cool respite from the heat — thermal and political. (As of press time, the Capitol Grounds were fenced off to the public.)
Two new memorials
Nearby, located on the grounds of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, a patch of watery wildness lies within view of the U.S. Capitol. The new National Native American Veterans Memorial was dedicated in November 2020.
Designed by Vietnam veteran Harvey Pratt, of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma, the “Warriors’ Circle of Honor” invites people in via an elevated walkway. After passing seals of the branches of the U.S. military, visitors can contemplate a large steel circle centered in a gently flowing pool of water.
The overall presentation is a soothing juxtaposition to the traditional, marble monuments around Washington.
Across Independence Avenue, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial, designed by world-famous architect Frank Gehry, highlights chapters of the 34th president’s life — from Kansas prairies to Normandy Beach in World War II and then to the White House. The four-acre outdoor memorial was dedicated in September 2020.
“Ike” is commemorated by large bronze sculptures, stone bas reliefs, and a statue of the young boy from Abilene, Kansas.
“The proudest thing I can claim is that I am from Abilene,” said the man who was the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in World War II, led the D-Day attack on Nazi-occupied France, and won the war for the Allies.
The most striking feature of the sandstone memorial is a unique, stainless-steel tapestry, 447 feet wide and 60 feet tall, of 600 panels and 82 million welds depicting France’s Normandy coastline.
If you go
All of these sites are free and outdoors. Most are accessible from a Metro station or via the DC Circulator bus (free to seniors transferring from Metro). Masks are required on public transportation.