General Scott statue  

Great Scott Circle
An infuriating intersection's startling statuary

By Theodore Fischer, Sidewalk

At the center of Scott Circle, the convoluted intersection that slices and dices traffic on Massachusetts Avenue, Rhode Island Avenue and 16th Street, stands an equestrian statue of Gen. Winfield Scott (top picture) and therein hangs a tale. Sculptor Henry Kirke Brown originally intended to depict Scott, a Mexican War hero and unsuccessful Whig Party presidential candidate nicknamed "Old Fuss and Feathers," atop the placid mare the corpulent general rode at the end of his career. After Scott's relatives objected because generals were never shown riding mares, Brown performed a sex-change operation before the statue was cast so that Scott now sits, peering down 16th Street at the White House, atop a steed complete with all stallion glory.

That's not the only reason to take a walking tour of this centrally located but usually overlooked area. Two other impressive statues adorn Scott Circle. To the general's right (the west) stands stern Daniel Webster, the argumentative New Hampshire orator who served in the House, in the Senate and as Millard Fillmore's secretary of state. The base bears memorable quotes "Our country, our whole country, and nothing but our country" and bronze tableaus of special Webster moments including a speech to the Senate and a wildly successful stump speech.

On the east side of the circle, a massive wall flanks a contemplative male figure seated beneath a dome of brilliant mosaic flowers. His name? "Hahnemann." His identity? Unless you can translate the words inscribed beside him "Die milde Macht ist Gross," which is German for, roughly, "mild strength is the strongest," and "similia similibus curenter," which means "like is cured by like" in Latin there's no way to know. But go around to the back of the monument and you learn that Christian Friedrich Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843) was a German physician, "a leader of the great medical reformation of the 19th century" and "founder of the homeopathic school," which tries to cure certain diseases with drugs that would ordinarily produce symptoms of that disease. Although Hahnemann never visited the United States, the American Institute of Homeopathy erected the memorial in 1900 10 years before Congress established the Commission of Fine Arts to curtail such dubious use of D.C.'s public spaces.

Opposite the Hahnemann installation stands the imposing gray mansion whose distinguished occupants have included Alexander Graham Bell; Levi P. Morton, vice president under Benjamin Harrison; and Elihu Root, a senator, secretary of state under Theodore Roosevelt and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Today the edifice is headquarters of the National Paint and Coatings Association.

Although most of Scott Circle is bordered by modern high-rise apartments, several buildings befit its location on the doorstep to the Massachusetts Avenue Embassy Row. There's the '50s moderne Tunisian Embassy on the southeast edge and, at the top of the circle, the Australian Embassy, fronted by a black slab sculpture depicting an emu and a kangaroo.

The gleaming new Philippine Embassy stands at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Bataan Street, aptly named after the Philippine site of the death march during World War II. Bataan Street and Corregidor Street which memorializes another Philippine battle on the east side of Scott Circle were two anonymous byways that received historic designations in 1961 at the request of the Philippine ambassador. Scott Circle is just loaded with surprises like this.

See also: Inside Scott Circle

 
Theodore Fischer, 1801 August Drive, Silver Spring, MD 20902, Tel: 301-593-9797, Fax: 301-593-9798, email: tfischer11@hotmail.com