The Egyptian Obelisk of Murder Bay

Clark Mills
Clark Mills

Below is a scathing letter to the editor by Clark Mills. You may recognize that name, because he’s the guy who did the statue of Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Park. We dug this interesting piece up in the Washington Post from December 19th, 1877.

The Washington Monument was still sitting unfinished, as an embarrassing (attempted) monument to George Washington.

Near the filthy marsh in the rear of the White House, well known as “Murder Bay,” stands an unsightly stone structure called by jobbers a “Monument to the Immortal Washington.” For thirty years it has stood there, a disgrace to the name of the father of his country, and a curse to the Nation. My experience as an architect and monument building compels me to protest against the finishing of any such obnoxious job and I am determined, with increasing energy, and in compliance with the wishes of hundreds of patriotic architects, and in justice and honor of a generous Nation, to show that it was folly to commence, and madness to complete such an abortion. Scientific engineers, masons and architects, have reported against finishing such a heathen shaft and especially because of its crumbling base and tottering top; whilst every man, woman and child, with half an eye, can see it is out of plumb and wanting symmetry.

Hundreds of thousands–nay, millions of dollars have been collected for it, and the question is where has it gone to. That is a question I asked before, but have had no answer. If the gentlemen who replied through THE POST is not a myth, why does he not give the public the exact figures–the amount received from all sources and the amount paid out.

It is well known that during the year 1853, at the Crystal Palace Exhibition at New York, a beautiful model was exhibited as the “Washington Monument.” The model was about five or six feet in height, with glass contribution-boxes about one foot square at each corner of the base, and it occupied a conspicuous position in the gallery of the northeast wing of the building. By the great throng of thousands of daily visitors the boxes were in a few days filled with gold pieces. Some of the Commissioners called on the attendant of the model, an intelligent, pleasant and gentlemanly young man, and inquired of him if he had any printed pamphlets containing the statements of the moneys received and expended. As he had nothing of the kind, he was advised to procure such a statement immediately, for the better satisfaction of the generous multitudes. He promised to do so and left, but never returned until the close of the Exhibition; and this was the reason that the Centennial Commissioners refused to admit the same contribution boxes in their buildings at Philadelphia. We make no personal charges, but we can assure the managers that the people demand an exhibition of their contributions from the responsible collectors themselves. Skulking bushwhackers, behind anonymous names, are unworthy of notice. There is plenty of money to be had for the erection of an American, and not a heathen, monument, in remembrance of our Revolutionary sires, who pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honors for us.

Sculptor and Architect

- click image for more -
unfinished Washington Monument in 1874
unfinished Washington Monument in 1874

Source: Library of Congress

About Tom

Tom founded Ghosts of DC on January 4th, 2012 as a blog to uncover the lost and untold history of Washington, D.C. He has lived in the city for over a decade and loves exploring every corner of the District.

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1874 Map of Suburban Mt. Pleasant

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  • Great find and post, Ghosts!

  • Serendipity

    What’s the origin of the name “Murder Bay”?