Posted by: Kirsten | Friday, 21 September 2007

The d’Arc Side

Joan of Arc (Foto by Jon T. Merryman)
Where’s Joan’s sword?
You never know what’s going to turn up on an unplanned field trip into Washington DC.  I saw this park at the corner of 16th and W streets and thought I recognized it from a National Park Service website somewhere in one of my late night surf sessions.  Sure enough, it was Meridian Hill Park, a forgotten 12-acre DC park administered by NPS.  The architecture is beautiful yet neglected.  The cascading fountains photograph well, but the water dirty. It has restrooms, yet I’d suggest you not attempt using them.

With all the beauty and majesty out there in the National Parks and Monuments, I suppose there has to be one park at the bottom of that list that gets the least attention, that’s perennially underfunded, and the vast majority of Americans don’t even know it exists.  Yet, it really belongs to all of them.

This was the backdrop for a part of my outing with my daughter today.  It was an afterthought after a mid-day visit to the Department of the Interior museum (yes, they do have one), a stroll along the Constitution Gardens, a picnic lunch, then a walk up to the Lincoln Memorial.

Yet somehow, Meridian Hill became the most important learning opportunity of our day.  The biggest surprise was a circa 1922 statue of Joan of Arc, riding triumphantly on her horse.  Sadly, her sword is missing, a few of the letters have been bent in someone’s effort to pry them from the base, and a large fenced-in area behind her looks like it’s been cordoned off and under construction for a long time with little progress being made.

Joan’s is the only equestrian statue in Washington DC featuring a female rider.  A gift from French women to American women, it’s a replica of an original masterpiece by Paul Dubois which stands today on the grounds of Rheims Cathedral in France. Henry Bacon, architect of the Lincoln Memorial and the Dupont Memorial Fountain, wrote that “Dubois’s statue of Jeanne d’Arc is one of the fine things of the world and no setting is too good for it.”

So instead of using this surprise find as a springboard to teach my daughter about Joan (which surprise surprise, she already seemed to know a lot about), it has instead inspired us to look at how parks and monuments can quickly go downhill if no one cares for or even knows about them.  I’ll be revisiting this subject in the future, to be sure — stay tuned…

— Jon


  1. My daughter (age 6) wrote the Park Service an e-mail earlier today regarding the statue of St. Joan. I’ll post the letter and the reply here once it arrives.

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