Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Story of the DuPont Circle Fountain

Rear Admiral Samuel Francis DuPont is, of course, one of the most famous naval figures of the Civil War, so it makes sense that the fountain located in DuPont Circle and dedicated to his memory is one of the most famous landmarks in Washington, DC. This fountain, however, was not the first tribute to DuPont that stood in the park.

In 1882, Congress approved a monument to DuPont. The monument would be paid for by the DuPont family, and it was to be placed in what was then called Pacific Circle. Sculptor Launt Thompson took on the task of creating the DuPont statue. The completed bronze rendition of DuPont was dedicated on 20 December 1884.

Anyone who has ever visited DuPont Circle knows that this statue no longer exists in that location. Perhaps some who have visited Wilmington, Delaware have noticed it in that city instead. It was moved to Wilmington in 1920 by the DuPont family.

The fountain that now represents DuPont in Washington, DC is actually a product of the famous sculptor, Daniel Chester French, and architect, Henry Bacon. These men also collaborated on another well-known memorial - the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall. The fountain includes three allegorical figures, each standing 8.5 feet tall. These figures represent the Wind, the Sea, and the Stars, which together symbolize the life at sea that DuPont and the rest of the Civil War Navy enjoyed.

But why was the statue moved and the fountain constructed in its place? Some credit monument reformers who had grown tired of heroic representations of figures in statue form and advocated for more abstract concepts in the forms of fountains and other non-statues. This is thought to be the only situation in which monument reformers managed to remove a statue from a location in Washington, DC and replace it with their version of a proper monument.

So if you ever find yourself in DuPont Circle, while contemplating DuPont the great naval figure, also contemplate the hubbub caused by the efforts to make him monumental.

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