As origin stories go, this is a good one — a dollar toward the cause from Col. John Jacob Astor’s own pocketbook, paid to Mrs. Archibald Forbes, settling up after their bridge game on the night of April 14. His body would be inventoried, as they all were: No. 124, male, about age 50, light hair and moustache. He wore a blue serge suit and a flannel shirt, “J.J.A.” on the collar. He wore brown boots, a belt with gold buckle, diamonds in his cuff links and ring. That’s not Astor depicted, arms thrown wide. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney is said to have based the face on her brother, who went down with the Lusitania. The figure designed by Whitney is only vaguely sexed, not clothed so much as draped. Erected by the Women of America, says the inscription, twenty-five thousand women who mailed in their dollar bills. The memorial disappeared after thirty years, reappearing down by Fort McNair. Officials explained this was to make way for the Kennedy Center, glad for the excuse. There had been miscalculations and, in 1936, an unusual snowmelt. No one could quite shake the memory of the Great Potomac Flood: waters lapping the feet, then the knees, waist, the lithe pectorals, before finally crowning his brow.
about the author