On Wednesday February 5, 2020, Washington, DC was enjoying a balmy 50°F, with cloudy skies that were producing an on again off again heavy mist.
(A month later on March 11 the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic, on Friday March 13 the President of the United States declared a national emergency, on March 14 CDC issued a “No Sail Order” to all cruise ships, and on March 15 states began to shut down schools, bars, restaurants and places of employment to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We all discovered zoom, grocery shopping online and home food delivery).
But on February 5 was I was blissfully ignorant of what was waiting just beyond the turn of a calendar page.
On that Wednesday, we were on a scavenger hunt looking for Rock Creek Cemetery, and for Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ sculpture commemorating Clover (Marian Hooper) Adams.
But why? When I was doing research for my novel, “Letters from Eleanor Roosevelt” I learned that in 1918, during one of the most trying times in Eleanor Roosevelt’s life, when she discovered Franklin had been carrying on with someone else, they were living in Washington DC, and she found great solace in Rock Creek Cemetery. Mrs. Roosevelt spent hours gazing at a statue by Augustus Saint-Gaudens in that cemetery.
Henry Adams commissioned the sculpture in memory of his wife, Clover, who committed suicide. In her book, “Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life” Natalie Dykstra says that Henry Adams instructed Augustus Saint-Gaudens to take his inspiration from two sources: Michelangelo’s frescoes of the five seated Sibyls in the Sistine Chapel and images of the Buddha, especially Kwannon, the goddess of mercy. Saint-Gaudens notebook for the sculpture notes: mental repose, calm reflection in contrast with the violence or force of nature, beyond pain, beyond joy.
The statue is a hooded figure about 6 feet tall, sitting on a rough-hewn granite block, deep in contemplation. The hood of the cloak drapes over all of the figure except the face. A large slab of polished red marble forms a background for the figure. At a bit of a distance away from the statue, there is a marble bench—the bench where Mrs. Roosevelt sat and contemplated the statue and her own future. There is no plaque on the statue, but Henry Adams called it ‘Peace of God,’ but most people know it as ‘Grief.’
The more that I read about the statue, the more I wanted to see it. It took a little time to convince my wife that this might be a worthwhile adventure, but finally, we were on our way in search of Rock Creek Cemetery and the statue. Neither was easy to find. Neither was well marked, but trusty GPS and persistence got us to both. It was worth the effort. The statue is starkly beautiful, cloaked in an aura of mystery, dignity, and solace. I’m glad that we made the trip. The memory of being in the presence of that statue carried me through the months ahead.
But my searching was not finished. I had to know more about Clover Adams. Usually I can uncover a wealth of information on the internet for the women I blog about here. But not so much for Clover (Marion Hooper) Adams. She was not a very public person. But, you have to be asking, then why did she warrant such a very public and grand memorial? Well, therein lies a story.
To be continued next week.