Sunday, September 20, 2009

An odd vignette

Last night, just after sunset, I walked down to the local liquor store for a bottle of wine. It's only a few blocks and it seemed silly to drive. By the time I was going back with a nice bottle of Spanish white, I had an odd experience.

I was walking along a stretch of sidewalk that ran next to a high hedge. I had looked ahead at one point and there was no one in front of me. I looked down, then up again and saw a silhouetted figure a few yards in front of me. I stumbled a bit on something on the sidewalk, and when I looked up again, it was gone.

Now, there are two entrances in that hedge, one a walk up to a house, and the other opens on the driveway. It's possible that someone just emerged from the entrance to the house, and then went down the driveway. But I looked down the driveway and saw nothing...and it's gravel, and I did not hear the characteristic crunch.

What was it? I'm not much of a believer; I'm a confirmed atheist and while I enjoy stories of the supernatural, I don't believe in them. But still, it was an unsettling event. I only saw the figure for a few moments; it could have just been my imagination. Who knows? I'll have to go down that sidewalk again, around the same time of day, and see what happens.

But I'm sure that could be the basis of a story...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Mysterious, Decadent, Spooky or Hidden DC, Part Two: The Temperance Fountain

A Temperance Fountain?

At 7th and Pennsylvania NW, just across the street from the Archives/Navy Memorial Metro stop, is one of DC's stranger monuments, the Temperance Fountain. Donated to the city in 1882 by dentist Henry Cogswell, it was one of a number of such fountains constructed in various cities (I think I've seen a photo of one in San Francisco) with the goal of providing water as an alternative to alcoholic beverages.

The dolphins would spew water, and there was a brass cup that one could use to scoop up water for you or your horse to drink. Well, I think they're supposed to be dolphins, even though they have scales.

Carvings on the side extol such virtues as Hope, Charity, Faith, and (duh) Temperance, but like the Temperance Movement, it was not taken terribly seriously. Long regarded as the ugliest monument in DC, the city tired of keeping it up and let it run dry, and for a long time the Apex Liquor Store stood nearby. Savor the irony.

Me? I'll give it a break; it's a fun ironic reminder of the past, and it has a heron on top. I like herons. (Why a heron? It's symbolic of water, just like the dolphins.) I'm told there's a Cogswell Society that donates money to maintain the monument, but don't think for a minute they're a subsect of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Instead, the Cogswellians are said to meet for boozy lunches, then stagger up to the monument, and declare loudly, "Here's to temperance! I'll drink to that!" Sounds like my group of people.

I'm featuring this partly because recently I met Garrett Peck, author of Prohibition Hangover. Garrett leads Temperance Tours of downtown DC, starting at the monument, so if you're in the area, keep an eye open for the next tour date. And check out Garrett's main site for other info.

But I've always been fascinated by this little forgotten bit of DC, and I've explained it to a number of people, and now you know as well.

I have other photos waiting to be shared, and books to review, and experiences to chronicle, so stay tuned...