We’re lucky to live so close to the hidden gem that is the Greenbelt National Park with its 1,200 acres of woods, trails and campsites. So close to DC and even a Metro station, it’s no wonder the park is popular with visitors to the area, domestic and international. DC residents sometimes camp there, too, enjoying an easy get-away in nature. Its 174 campsites cost just $20 a night.
So what a shock to learn from Mayor Colin Byrd that the park is one of four possible locations for Trump’s “National Garden of American Heroes,” announced by Executive Order on July 3!
Remember when the removal of Confederate statues was in the news? This “garden” idea is in reaction to all that, a chance for Trump to just pick his own “heroes” and put up statues for them. The announcement said that preference would be given to “the Founding Fathers, former Presidents of the United States, leading abolitionists, and individuals involved in the discovery of America.”
The first 31 “heroes” are: Billy Graham, Antonin Scalia, Ronald Reagan, John Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Amelia Earhart, Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln, Douglas MacArthur, Christa McAuliffe, George Patton, Betsy Ross, George Washington, Wilbur Wright, Orville Wright. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Henry Clay, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Dolley Madison, James Madison, Audie Murphy, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Clara Barton, Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr., and Jackie Robinson.
The list was described as not exhaustive, and Byrd was told that the number of statues could rise to 200 or more!
Not just the names but the sculptures’ style would be dictated, too. “All statues in the National Garden should be lifelike or realistic representations of the persons they depict, not abstract or modernist representations.” Because no Modernism! (This is consistent with Trump’s draft Executive Order – called “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again” – requiring that all new federal buildings be Classical in style.)
Now in my first career I attended dozens, maybe hundreds of meetings about proposed memorials and statues in DC, so I’d read the “Garden of Heroes” announcement with interest but shrugged it off in the “never gonna happen” category, knowing it takes years for these things to be approved, and Trump would be gone soon, anyway. As one tells oneself these days.
Even if he won re-election, this could very well go the way of that other expensive vanity project of his – the Wall.
But my thoughts about the “garden” changed when I received the email from Byrd that read, “It has come to my attention that one of the locations that the Department [of Interior] is most strongly considering is Greenbelt Park.” (The other potential sites included Glen Echo Park and the C&C Canal.) Byrd announced a town hall on the subject, which I attended, of course (virtually, like everyone).
- Byrd noted the park was commissioned for its “greenery,” which is especially important for a town famous for the green belt around it – it’s “part of our brand!” And when he heard there may be hundreds of statues he wondered, “Are they going to be miniatures?”
- So he declared the proposal “legally suspect” and said he assumed it could be tied up in courts, “certainly until January, when things will work out.” (More cautious optimism.)
- “The list is horrible! Really insulting.” “It’s a show of force, and very worrisome.” Seems like they’re “sticking it to the liberals.”
- “Why not include FDR?” And it’s “odd to have Scalia without Marshall or Warren.”
- Many expressed concern that it would be “very politicized.” “Feels like a whim.” “He’s claiming grandeur for himself.”
- “People will be up in arms about this!”
- Someone mentioned the environmental impact statement taking a long time to prepare, and “hopefully Trump would be in jail by then.”
- Is there the infrastructure for all the new traffic?
- “Who would be attracted to it?” was a concern that hadn’t even occurred to me but yes, I can imagine people coming here to show their support for the Confederacy. Think Charlottesville. “This feels like infiltration and is very threatening, honestly.”
- “It’s a misappropriation of resources.”
- Byrd mentioned that lots of cities are actually asking for this! So why not let some other city reap the imagined economic benefits from such a “garden.”
Having solicited input without comment until the very end, Byrd finally declared that “I stand strongly against this project.”
Politics aside, I bet most would agree that putting dozens or hundreds of statues in a forested national park isn’t exactly showing them off to their advantage. To say the least.
A Note About Style
My favorite recent statue is this one of Frederick Douglass, installed at the University of Maryland campus in 2015. It’s realistic and downright fiery! And at 7.5 feet tall, it’s majestic but still reachable.
On the other hand, I wish the style of this statue had been overruled somehow because it portrays Martin Luther King Jr. as a Chinese emperor, so tall that visitors rush up to it, only to get a view of his knees.