Friday, January 28, 2011

Arlington urns

In the wake of recent scandals involving poor record-keeping, mismarked graves, and misplaced burial markers, Arlington National Cemetery is now trying to determine how the decorative urns that flanked the stage of the amphitheater (2nd image) ended up in private hands. The 9' marble urns (1st image, detail) were part of the original construction (3rd image) dedicated by President Woodrow Wilson in 1920. When the amphitheater was renovated in the 1990s, the contractor was tasked with properly disposing of the urns as government property. Whether sold by the construction company or someone in the crusher plant, the historic urns and part of the amphitheater's marble balustrade became the property of a dealer who resold them to a Maryland antique shop in 1997. This weekend, the urns - carved with rams' heads, snakes, and eagles - were due to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Though weathered and damaged, they were expected to fetch between $20,000 and $40,000. Preservationists and politicians believe that the urns should have been restored or put in a museum, not put out on the open market:
  • "They are absolutely gorgeous. They're just superb and very prominent in the design. So to take them off seems very odd."~Architect Mark Alan Hewitt
  • "It's alarming to see portions of our national legacy being sold off. It raises some red flags for us, and we have some very significant concerns about the cemetery's stewardship of this extraordinarily historic place."~Robert Nieweg, National Trust for Historic Preservation.
  • "These are public objects that are owned by all of us, or should be."~Kirk Savage, author of Monument Wars
  • "Both the Army and the contractors responsible for this have some explaining to do..."~Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.)
The good news is that the owner of the urns has agreed to return them to the cemetery for conservation and exhibition. "While this was a positive outcome, we continue to be concerned about the stewardship of Arlington National Cemetery....Allowing significant pieces of our heritage to end up on the auction block, and replacing historic elements with replicas, is simply not acceptable."

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