The Titanic Memorial & Cuban Friendship Urn

I didn’t have to try with this post’s title. It followed directly from the first law of DC Memorials: if there can be a memorial to it, there is.

Way back a week ago, Shawn suggested my blog focus on reviews of DC’s least popular tourist attractions. The Titanic Memorial definitely falls into this category. On tripadvisor, it is number 289 of 381 things to do in the Washington, DC, which is suspiciously high. Of course, I’ve wanted to visit it ever since I saw a review saying “there’s no reason to go out of your way to see this monument, or spend more than five minutes visiting it.”

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.

We spent 6 minutes visiting this memorial. (Shawn was ready to leave after 4.)

But I’m getting ahead of myself. To make this a complete saga, I’ve got to start from the beginning… Our trip to the Titanic Memorial began at 1:30 pm on Sunday, when I set off on bike to attend a free 2:00 pm yoga class… that had begun at 12:00. One failed exercise/contemplation attempt behind me, I gave Shawn a head’s up about my goal of visiting the Titanic Memorial, and set off – wearing flip flops and carrying a yoga mat, I should note, in case it becomes necessary to defend my lack of speed or stamina.

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Stopping to send a text and marvel at our nation’s only-mostly-crumbling infrastructure.

Approximately 20 minutes, two bridge crossings, and two wrong turns later, I sat down to wait for Shawn near the Jefferson Memorial.

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I may have attempted to take a quick nap under the trees while waiting… Give me a break, it was 95 degrees outside!

After I had waited for about 10 minutes, Shawn insisted I backtrack to the other side of the tidal basin. While I maintain that this was not the fastest way to go, it was a worthwhile detour because it gave Shawn a chance to show me one of his favorite unpopular tourist attractions: the Cuban Friendship Urn. (Yes, that is it’s official name.) Nestled into a corner of overflow Lot A, this cup-shaped marble statue is one of the more pathetic memorials in our city.

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Eroding/rusting away in a parking lot, like the friendship between our great nations.

Apparently there is some mystery as to where this gem was hidden between 1959 and 1992 according to one of the more well-regarded sources for history: Wikipedia. I’m also not entirely sure if the title “friendship urn” is meant as commentary on U.S.-Cuba relations. But none-the-less, I laughed a bit (after stealing all of Shawn’s food and water), and then climbed up to take a look at the inscriptions.

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The lengths to which I will go for a good shot of a plaque. (p/c: Shawn Doyle) Also pictured: the $85 yoga mat I won in a free raffle during a free class!

In case you are curious, the higher and smaller plaque reads: “El recuerdo del ‘Maine’ tendre eterno duracion durante los siglos de la amistad entre la tierra de Cuba y la tierra de los Estados Unidos de Norte America. – Gerardo Machado” [directly translated based on my questionable Spanish skills: the memory of the “Maine” will have eternal duration during the centuries of friendship between the land of Cuba and the land of the United States of North America.] [For anyone who knows Spanish, the accents were missing from the statue itself, not just my transcription.]

The larger plaque offers an explanation of the statue’s origins: “Esta copa fue esculpida en un fragmento de la columna de marmol del monumento a las victimas del ‘Maine.’ Ericido en la ciudad de la Habana, cuya columna fue derribada por el ciclon de 20 de 0ctubre de 1926.” ….Basically, a statue (Monument to the Victims of the U.S.S. Maine) was built in Havana, Cuba. Unfortunately, the monument was destroyed by a hurricane, but some recycling-wiz of a Cuban government official decided that a marble column should be made into a friendship urn (like a friendship bracelet for storing remains?) and sent to the United States. Presumably he was unaware of how appropriate the title “friendship urn” would become.

After I had translated both plaques for Shawn, we set off for the mysterious Titanic Memorial. Much to neither of our surprises, the roads and side-walks leading up to it were in tip-top shape, as evidenced by the photos below.

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Apparently instead of actually fixing the sidewalk, someone just covered the truly treacherous parts with red paint of shame…
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It’s like someone started building the world’s shallowest pool but gave up.

We bumped over the cement obstacle course until we came to the end of a short path along the Washington Chanel, across the Potomac from Gravelly Point.

Finally, ahead of us was the majestic sight of a partially-robed man, standing on a granite pedestal with his arms outstretched, the sun gleaning off his finely sculpted body… We had reached our holy grail, the treasure on our grueling quest: the Women’s Titanic Memorial.

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Wait, Women’s Titanic Memorial?

Yes, apparently this is not the only Titanic Memorial in the District. This is the Women’s Titanic Memorial. Why? Well, as we approached the glorious work of art and memorial-ization, I noticed something interesting. It turns out, this statue honors only the men aboard the titanic. Specifically, those who stayed on the sinking ship as the women and children took the lifeboats. The stone reads: “To the brave men who perished in the wreck of the Titanic April 15 1912. They gave their lives that women and children might be saved.” It seems the statue’s pose is likely a shout-out to the story of J-Christ rather than that scene with Jack-who-couldn’t-act and Whiny-Mc-whatever-her-name-is. That this statue’s pose is not in any way connected to that horrible movie (yes, I went there) is confirmed by the fact that it was dedicated in 1931. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney was the artist who so lovingly designed the Jesus-like figure with the stone wizard robe barely covering his private parts, but it turns out the memorial was “Erected by the women of America.” As a woman of America, I was astonished that I had done something so grand – or would have, by default, if I were a woman of America in 1931! I wondered if my great-grandmothers (or 3-year-old grandmothers) knew this statue was being erected on their behalf at the time.

After contemplating what it means to be a women of America for about 2 minutes, I walked around back and found another inscription: “To the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the ignorant and the learned, all who gave their lives to save women and children.” A nice sentiment. From a utilitarian perspective, I probably would have considered a different way to delegate spots on the life boats, but I think this ultimate act of chivalry is worth remembering.

So I sat down to think about how all men aren’t all bad all the time.

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Since I can’t hide the fact that I did not take this photo myself, p/c: Shawn Doyle

It was a somber moment. (Well, not entirely. This photo was 100% staged, and it’s hard to take something completely seriously when it has mutant dolphins on it (see photo below). But overall it is a nice place to sit down and think about sacrifices, safety standards, and tragic shipwrecks.)

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Is this dolphin?! What is going on with it’s nose?!?

After some contemplation and much picture-taking, we decided to call it a day. I checked the time. It had been SIX minutes since we arrived. Take that, random tourist who thought this memorial was only worth five minutes of my time!

Overall, my rating of the Women’s Titanic Memorial is as follows (out of 5):

Poetic quality of inscription: 4

Ergonomic design of stone bench: 3

Inclusion of mutant dolphins: 6

Overall: 2

Thanks for reading! …If you feel that this can’t possibly be all there is to learn about the Women’s Titanic Memorial, may I suggest watching a video made by American History TV – CSPAN3? It only lasts 2 minutes but feels longer!

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