Letters: Of Monuments and Men
November 28, 2011 |  by Johns Hopkins Staff

Monument muddle

I applaud Hadley Nagel for her efforts to memorialize James Madison through a “national monument,” but writer Michael Anft might have done some fact-checking in reference to what constitutes a national monument [“With Due Respect to James Madison,” Wholly Hopkins, Fall]. There are many national memorials, national monuments, national historic landmarks, etc. The alleged memorial to John F. Kennedy in Dallas is not a national monument but rather a museum paid for and supported by the city of Dallas, although Dealey Plaza is a national historic landmark district. Further, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts—an extremely imposing edifice sited on the Potomac River that holds the iconic sculpted head of JFK by Robert Berks—is a true “palace,” to use the author’s own word. Congress funded the Kennedy Center and made it, by law, the only memorial to JFK permitted in the nation’s capital. Private gifts and congressional allocations support the center. In addition, one would hardly call the 88-acre Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial or the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial on the National Mall “less decorous” than other monuments. Is Baltimore that far from Washington, D.C.?

Jan Pottker
Coral Gables, Florida

Mission accomplished

It’s always a pleasure to receive Johns Hopkins Magazine and read its timely articles. I was especially interested in your Fall issue and the article about the student who felt not enough recognition has been accorded James Madison [“With Due Respect to James Madison”]. Her many activities to raise awareness about our fourth president are impressive, especially those built around Constitution Day. Acknowledged as the author of both that hallowed document as well as, later, the Bill of Rights, he is an important Founding Father.

The article notes that Nagel has suggested that Congress pass legislation to establish a Washington, D.C., memorial to James Madison because she learned on a field trip that there was no such monument to him. But neither Nagel nor your author, Michael Anft, have done their homework. There is a large memorial to President Madison right across from the U.S. Capitol itself.

The third and newest building of the Library of Congress (opened in 1980) is named the Madison Building and within it is a large marble memorial, with a larger-than-life statue of President Madison. Just like the Lincoln, Jefferson, and FDR memorials, the Madison Memorial includes many of his inspiring quotes carved in marble. This building was built with the dual purpose of providing space for the growing needs of the Library of Congress and being the nation’s memorial to the fourth president.

None of this means that we shouldn’t do more to raise the awareness of President Madison, as Nagel suggests. The more young Americans know about the young founders of our nation, the better off we are as a nation. But on the topic of a memorial, we can check that as accomplished, with one of the larger, more centrally located memorials for any president.

William Canis, A&S ’72, SAIS ’73 (MA)
Great Falls, Virginia

Michael Anft responds:

As our astute letter writers (and at least one phone caller) have divined, trying to determine which presidential monuments qualify as “national” or “federal” and which do not is a fool’s errand. I should know—I’m the fool who tried it. Jan Pottker is right about omissions and false qualifications: Sifting through artistically various monuments in search of an organizing principle is crazy. Various lists of national presidential memorials and monuments label some edifices and statues as such, but leave many off—including the Madison Building at the Library of Congress, which Hadley Nagel, the James Madison–focused Hopkins student in question, had seen, but I hadn’t. (And to the phone caller: There are monuments to William McKinley in both Canton and Niles, Ohio.) All my methodological miscues aside, Nagel still believes that Madison is getting the short end of the historical stick. In response to William Canis’ letter arguing that the Madison Building’s existence ensures that a monument to him has been “accomplished,” Nagel says: “The Madison Building has been carved into different spaces. It houses the LOC Federal Credit Union office, serves sometimes as a dispensary of flu shots, and other times as a shopping mall theater. What is left as a tribute to our fourth president is one hallway with a statue of Madison in darkness at the far end. I strongly disagree that this is a fitting memorial to James Madison.”

We ain’t seen nothin’ yet

“The Great Unknowns” [Fall] states that, “. . . atoms and other particles we know and understand only make up about 5 percent of the whole shebang.” This statement needs to be preceded with the phrase, “based on our current level of ignorance,” because some readers may not sufficiently appreciate the transitory nature of material science’s cosmological theories.

Consider that only about 20 years ago, cosmologists accepted as fact the statement, “Atoms and other particles we know and understand make up 100 percent of the whole shebang.” If past revolutions in scientific cosmology are any indication (e.g., from a steady-state universe to the Big Bang, from a Milky Way galaxy universe to billons of galaxies, and from particles we know making up 100 percent to making up barely 5 percent), we ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

John D. White, Engr ’87 (MS)
Chevy Chase, Maryland

Getting the facts straight

“The Wrong Man” [Fall] reminded me of the recent Intercollegiate Studies Institute study that found that on average, students at elite universities, including Johns Hopkins, graduated with less knowledge of American history, government, and economics than they had as incoming freshmen. That remarkable result is probably due to tendentious indoctrination, such as that displayed by this article.

For example, the article offers a casual reference to “Valerie Plame Wilson, the former CIA operative whose cover was blown by the Bush White House,” in blatant disregard of well-known facts. Of course, it was career State Department bureaucrat Richard Armitage who broke Plame Wilson’s cover, not the “Bush White House.” This point illustrates both the overall nonveracity of this article and, more generally, how when it comes to bashing George W. Bush and Republicans, facts take a backseat to another agenda in too much of academia.

As if another example of misinformation being promulgated at Johns Hopkins University and in the magazine were needed, in the previous issue, Hopkins professor of archaeology Glenn Schwartz told us, “In reality, it’s extremely safe and wonderful to travel as an American in Syria” [“Oh, the Places They Go,” Summer]. I suppose that might be true if you like seeing thousands of civilians killed by the regime. Probably not incidentally, he also neglected to note that Americans intent on entering Syria surely better not reveal any evidence of having traveled to their ally Israel.

If these are examples of the scholarship Johns Hopkins is most proud of, we truly do have a quite a problem.

Robert Stevens, A&S ’76
Fairfax, Virginia

Art appreciation

I appreciated your highlighting the portraits hung at Johns Hopkins Hospital [“The Greatest Veneration,” Fall]. Though not a gallery, there are many works there to appreciate. In a city crowded with neo-Georgian and colonial revival buildings, I am attracted to the German Romantic Billings Administration Building, and will reroute myself to use this entrance. I will stroll the north and south corridors, to the sides of Christus Consolator. The north hall once was all men; now, this area has portraits of a lad and a lady. Two of the six (one-third, and higher when a stag enclave) remaining paintings portray their subjects carrying lit cigarettes. I trust this product placement is not intentional.

Gary F. Suggars, A&S ’72 (MLA), Bus ’86 (MAS)
Baltimore, Maryland

You’re welcome, Ms. Lewison

Bret McCabe’s article, “The Greatest Veneration,” in the Fall issue of Johns Hopkins Magazine is fascinating—I enjoyed it immensely.

I’m sure you know all about many of the other portraits—but I had to make sure you were aware of the only one with two doctors in it [Howard W. and Georgeanna Seegar Jones, by Henry Cooper, 1977]. Georgeanna graduated in 1936—along with my husband, Edward Lewison (his portrait, by the photographer Leonard Grief, is in his library in the Bunting Blaustein building). Unfortunately, Georgeanna died of Alzheimer’s about five years ago, but Howard—who will be 101 in December—will be in Baltimore in October for their lectureship. His body is failing but his mind is still fabulous.

Again, many thanks for your great article.

Betty Lewison
Baltimore, Maryland

Correction: In “The Greatest Veneration” [Fall], we incorrectly identified one of the physicians portrayed in John Singer Sargent’s The Four Doctors. It is William Halsted who is portrayed standing behind the other three doctors “with one hand magisterially on his hip.”