Monumentally Speaking . . .
Christopher T. George

Baltimore's Monument to George Washington
Is Our Nation's First

Baltimore has the distinction of being home to the first major architectural memorial to George Washington. Ten years after the death, in 1799, of our first President, the citizens of Baltimore petitioned the Maryland General Assembly for the right to raise $100,000 by lottery to build the monument. It was completed in 1829 (at a cost more than twice the original estimate!) and the marble monument is one of the architectural glories of Baltimore. Located in Mount Vernon Place on Charles Street between Madison and Centre Streets, it is a touch of Paris in the center of an American city. No wonder movie makers find it a choice locale!

Yet this was not the original site chosen for the monument. The initial idea was to build it at Calvert and Fayette Streets, where the Battle Monument now stands. (The Battle Monument is a memorial to those who died in the battle of Northpoint during the War of 1812.) Householders, fearing that a 160-foot high column might fall on their townhouses, resisted the plan. The solution came when Colonel John Eager Howard donated a vacant field on a rise a mile north of town.

Architect Robert Mills submitted the winning design. Mills' original drawings show a much more ornate creation than the simple Doric column we see today. He even envisioned Washington atop the monument dressed as a Roman warrior in a chariot of victory. The final design for the statue we see today shows the Commander-in-Chief standing dressed in a Roman toga in the act of handing over his commission as Commander-in-Chief. The 16-foot high marble statue was executed by the Italian sculptor Enrico Causici. Wits say it more closely resembles James Cagney than the man on our dollar bill!

The square base, with marble donated by Gen. Charles Ridgely of Hampton, is inscribed with Washington's Revolutionary War victories and is surrounded by a martial-looking ornate circular iron fence with Roman fasces and arrows. The monument is administered by Baltimore's Department of Recreation and Parks and can be visited Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on the first Thursday of every month until 8 p.m. A modest fee of $1.00 will gain you admission. Inside, a display tells the history of the monument and, if you are adventurous, you may climb the 228 steps to the top of the monument and enjoy a spectacular view of the city.

[Device] Christopher T. George is a local free-lance writer and poet and the author of the recent picture book on our city, Baltimore Close Up, from Arcadia Publishers, on sale at local bookstores.

Questions or comments about this article for Mr. George.

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