Posts Tagged ‘Spanish-American War’


The Butt-Millet Memorial Fountain

On this lunchtime bike ride I rode over to President’s Park, which encompasses The White House, a visitor center, Lafayette Square, and The Ellipse. There are a number of monuments and memorials located throughout the park, and on this ride I specifically went there to see the Butt-Millet Memorial Fountain, which is located just south and within sight of the White House, and about thirty yards northwest of The Zero Milestone, near the western junction of E street and Ellipse Road (MAP).

The fountain is a memorial to Archibald Willingham DeGraffenreid Clarendon Butt and Francis Davis Millet, believed to be the only officials of the United States government who perished, along with more than 1,500 others, when the “unsinkable” RMS Titanic hit an iceberg during its maiden voyage and sunk on the night of April 14th through to the morning of April 15th in 1912.

On May 16, 1912, just one month after the Titanic went down, Senator Augustus Octavius Bacon of Georgia submitted a resolution authorizing the constructing of a private memorial to Butt and Millet on federally owned land somewhere in D.C..  Bacon argued that Butt and Millet were public servants who deserved to be memorialized separately from the rest of the dead.  Initial press reports indicated that President William Howard Taft planned an elaborate dedication ceremony for the memorial.  But Taft was no longer president by late 1913, having lost the presidential election to Woodrow Wilson.  So the Butt-Millet Memorial Fountain was dedicated without ceremony on October 25, 1913.

The Fountain is 12 feet high, with an octagonal grey granite base which supports an 8 feet wide bowl made of golden brown Tennessee marble. Rising up from the bowl is a panel with two relief figures. The one on the southern side of the panel depicts a man in armor and helmet who is holding a shield, representing military valor and memorializing Butt. The figure on the north side of the panel depicts a woman with paint brush and palette, represents the fine arts and memorializes Millet.

Butt, known as “Archie” to his friends, was a United States Army officer. He served in the Quartermaster Corps during the Spanish-American War, where he gained notice for his work in logistics and animal husbandry.   Later, after brief postings in D.C and Cuba, he was appointed as a military aide to President Theodore Roosevelt. At the time of his death he was serving as a military aide to President Taft. Known as one of the most eligible bachelors in D.C., Butt never married and mystery surrounded his personal life as well as his death. There were many sensational accounts reported of Butt’s last moments aboard the Titanic.  But none of them has ever been verified. Although his body was never found, a cenotaph in the shape of a Celtic cross memorializes him in Arlington National Cemetery.

Millet was an accomplished painter, sculptor, and writer, and at the time of his death served as vice chairman of the Commission of Fine Arts, a committee with approval authority for the “design and aesthetics” of construction within the national capitol city. Some mystery also surrounded Millet’s personal life. Despite being married and a father of three, he is also thought to have had several same-sex relationships during his life.   Millet’s body was recovered after the sinking and was buried in Bridgewater, Massachusetts.

Despite the mystery in their personal lives, both men were well liked in local social circles and among the D.C. elite. In Butt’s eulogy in The Washington Times, it stated that, “the two men had a sympathy of mind which was most unusual.” Noting that Butt was “mourned by Washingtonians of all walks of life,” the article claimed, “None could help admiring either man.” Some historians have also asserted that Butt and Millet were involved in a romantic relationship. They were close friends and housemates, often attending social gatherings and parties together. And they were aboard the Titanic because they were returning to the United States after vacationing together in Europe.  Quite possible an early example of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” they were together in both life and death.

Butt-MilletMemorialFountain02     Butt-MilletMemorialFountain03
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]


The Embassy of Cuba

On December 17th of last year, President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced the beginning of a process of normalizing relations between Cuba and the U.S. Then on April 11th of this year, Presidents Obama and President Castro shook hands at the Summit of the Americas in Panama, marking the first meeting between a U.S. and Cuban head of state since the two countries severed their ties in 1961. And on July 1st, President Obama announced the formal restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries. So in recognition of this renewed relationship, often referred to as “The Cuban Thaw”, I decided on this lunchtime bike ride to ride to the diplomatic mission of Cuba to the United States – the newly reopened Cuban Embassy.

The Republic of Cuba actually had a diplomatic outpost in D.C. even before the country existed as an independent nation. In the 1890s, as Cubans mounted a war for independence from Spain, Gonzalo de Quesada established a legation at the fashionable Raleigh Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. After some rebel successes in this war for Cuba’s independence, U.S. President William McKinley in 1897 offered to buy Cuba for $300 million. It was the rejection of that offer, and an explosion in Havana harbor that sank the American battleship USS Maine, that led to the Spanish–American War. In Cuba the war became known as “the U.S. intervention in Cuba’s War of Independence”. On December 10, 1898, Spain and the United States signed the Treaty of Paris and, in accordance with the treaty, Spain renounced all rights to Cuba. The treaty put an end to the Spanish Empire in the Americas, and setting the stage for the birth of the independent Republic of Cuba.

Two decades later, in 1917, Cuba constructed an embassy in the United States, located just two miles north of The White House at 2630 16th Street (MAP) in the northwest D.C.’s Meridian Hill neighborhood. At that time Meridian Hill was home to many of the city’s finest embassies. Close by are the former Italian, Mexican, and Spanish embassies as well as the current embassies of Poland and Lithuania. The Cuban Embassy served in that capacity for the next 43 years, until newly-elected President John F. Kennedy severed diplomatic relations with Cuba following the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and that country’s subsequent decision to closely ally itself with the Soviet Union.

Later, beginning in the 1970s, the embassy building housed the Cuban Interests Section in the United States. The Cuban Interests Section and its counterpart, the United States Interests Section in Havana, were sections of the respective embassies of Switzerland, which acted as protecting power. However, they operated as embassies independently of the Swiss in virtually all but protocol respects.

The United States will be opening an embassy in Havana on Friday at a similar ceremony to be presided over by Secretary of State John Kerry.  I won’t be riding my bike there to see it, though, at least any time soon.

A number of differences and disputes between our two countries remain. These include Cuba’s request that the U.S. return its Naval base in Guantanamo Bay and lift the economic embargo, which Congress has shown little inclination to do anytime soon, as well as the U.S.’s concerns in regard to human rights abuses by the island nation. Whether the reopening of the embassies lead to resolution of these matters remains to be seen, but perhaps it may be a first step in that direction.


Monument to Cristoforo Columbo

There are a large number of official public monuments in the national capitol city which honor a wide range of historic figures. They include presidential monuments such as The Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, as well as monuments to military leaders such as John Paul Jones, George B. McClellan and John Barry. There are also monuments and memorials to foreign leaders and dignitaries such as Winston Churchill of England, Robert Emmett of Ireland, Orlando Letelier of Chile, and Eleftherios Venizélos of Greece.  A variety of cultural and historic figures such as Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi also have monuments and memorials dedicated to them. There are even monuments to religious leaders such as Francis Asbury, James Gibbons, and John Carroll.  So with all the different types of monuments to all the different types of people, I was surprised to learn that there is no public monument in D.C. to the man who is widely credited with founding and colonizing America and the “New World” – Christopher Columbus.

I found out, however, that there is a private monument to Christopher Columbus.  The private monument, known as the Monument to Cristoforo Colombo, is located in the garden in the courtyard of Holy Rosary Church, located at 595 3rd Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Judiciary Square neighborhood.  Christopher Columbus, as most Americans and English speaking people know him, is an Anglicization of his real name. He was born Cristoforo Colombo in Genoa, Italy.  Other languages have changed his name, too. He is known as Cristóbal Colón in Spanish, and Kristoffer Kolumbus in Swedish.

The Cristoforo Colombo Monument was a gift from the Lido Civic Club of D.C., which was established by Italian Americans in 1929 with the primary goal of assisting recent immigrants become assimilated into the ways of American business.  As Italian Americans in the D.C. area became more successful and affluent, the goals of the Club shifted towards more civic-minded activities that help not only Italian Americans but the D.C. area in general.

The plaque on the base of the monument reads, “This monument, erected on the occasion of the 1992 Quincentennial Jubilee celebrating the discovery of America, pays tribute to Cristoforo Colombo and his seafaring companions. Their bold voyage led to a historic encounter between the European world and the Americas. A turning point in Western Civilization, this event paved the way for the spreading of the Gospel and the establishment of a society anchored on the principles of Christian love and holiness. 1492 – 1992.”

Cristoforo Colombo was born in  in Genoa, Italy, in 1451, but later moved to Spain. It was in Spain, where he worked as a trader, that he got the idea that he could sail straight to China by crossing the Atlantic Ocean. As a trader he knew that there were great riches to be had in China and East Asia. However, traveling overland by the “Silk Road” was dangerous, and a sea route around Africa seemed much too long.  Like others during his lifetime, he believed that the world was formed mainly of one giant landmass consisting of Europe, Asia, and Africa.  That was mainly because these are the only continents mentioned in the Bible. They also believed that these continents were surrounded by one enormous body of water they called the Ocean Sea. It would turn out that Columbus was wrong. The Earth was much larger than was thought at the time, and there was another land mass between Europe and Asia – the Americas.

So what started out as a direct trip to China and East Asia which Colombo originally estimated to be approximately 2,400 miles, actually turned out to be a lot longer. Colombo’s calculations were only off by about 10,000 miles though.  And it wasn’t a direct route either.  Of course, there were already native people living in the Americas at the time. There even was a European, Leif Ericsson, who had been to the Americas before. However, it was Columbus’ voyage that started the exploration and colonization of this “New World.”

Interestingly, Columbo died thinking he had discovered a shortcut to Asia across the Atlantic Ocean, and never knew what an amazing discovery he had actually made.

It’s also interesting that the trip during which he “discovered” the Americas was not his last.  Columbo would eventually make three additional voyages to the Americas and back during his lifetime, and one more after his death.  After dying at the age of 55 in May of 1506, Columbo was buried in Valladolid, Spain.  His body was then moved to Seville.  Later, at the request of his daughter-in-law, the bodies of Columbo and his son Diego were shipped across the Atlantic to the island of Hispaniola, where they were interred in a Santo Domingo cathedral.  Centuries later, when the French captured the island, the Spanish dug up remains which they thought were his and moved them to Cuba.  They were then returned to Seville after the Spanish-American War.  However, a box with human remains and the explorer’s name was discovered inside the Santo Domingo cathedral in 1877, leading to speculation that the Spaniards exhumed the wrong body.  DNA testing in 2006 found evidence that at least some of the remains in Seville are those of Columbo.  But the Dominican Republic has refused to let the other remains be tested.  So it could be that, aptly, pieces of Columbo are both in the Old World and the New World.




On this bike ride I chose to go to see a sculpture entitled “Serenity,” which sits in Meridian Hill Park, located in northwest D.C.’s Columbia Heights neighborhood on land bordered by 15th, 16th, W, and Euclid Streets (MAP).  The large outdoor statue depicts a seated woman with a flowing robe over her lap, and her left foot resting on what appears to be a broken sword.  Serenity was installed in the park’s northwest corner and dedicated on March 12, 1924.  It is the work of a Spanish Catalan sculptor named José Clara, and is identical to the sculpture, “Serenidad,” which is known by the same name, only in Spanish for some reason, despite the fact that it is in Luxembourg, Germany.

Serenity was originally owned by Charles Deering, an American businessman, art collector and philanthropist, whose family fortune was made through the agricultural equipment company that eventually became International Harvester.   He bought the statue in 1900 at the Paris Exposition.  As a tribute to the memory of a friend and classmate from the U.S. Naval Academy named William Henry Scheutze, Deering donated the statue to the National Park Service to be displayed publicly as a gift to the American people.

Deering’s friend, Lieutenant Commander William Henry Scheutze, was a career naval officer.  He graduated first in his class at the U.S. Naval Academy.  He was part of an expedition to retrieve the bodies of American explorers who died in the Arctic, and later served in Siberia as a navigator, and on the U.S.S. Iowa during the Spanish American War.  At the time of his sudden death, Scheutze had a desk job in D.C. as the superintendent of the compass division of the U.S. Navy.  Other than the fact that Deering already owned the piece, I have no idea what the sculpture of a serene woman has to do with a deceased naval officer.

Unfortunately, the sculpture is in a state of disrepair.  Her nose went missing in 1960, and by 2009 she was also missing her left hand and a big toe.  She has been vandalized over the years with paint as well, although that has been cleaned up.    But it is nonetheless a nice sculpture, and worth seeking out, especially if you’re already visiting Meridian Hill Park.