Pierre L’Enfant would have hated D.C. statehood and his statue in the Capitol
Two bones and an angry tooth entombed at Arlington National Cemetery
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Pierre L’Enfant a “hero” and a “patriot” at the dedication of his statue in the Capitol on Monday. Pelosi rightly lauded the Frenchman for volunteering to fight in the American Revolution. She praised him as the architect who designed the beautiful layout of the city of Washington.
However, she left out (or just doesn’t know) that L’Enfant died broke and angry at Congress and the city for not paying him for his decades of work for the country.
I learned the real story about L’Enfant’s life when I was visiting Arlington National Cemetary on Memorial Day and walked all the way to the top. (I wrote the story below that day.)
I asked a U.S. Park Ranger what was the one big, white tomb in front of Arlington House. I assumed a military hero, but he told me it was Pierre L’Enfant. The ranger pointed out that the tombstone was placed so it overlooks all of the city that Pres. George Washington hired him to design.
Then the ranger told me how L’Enfant’s body ended up there. He said that the architect was bankrupt at the end of his life. So he was just buried under a tree on a farm in Maryland when he died in 1825.
The grave was shallow. Over time, the casket came up out of the ground and his bones washed away through the tree roots. The ranger said they couldn’t find most of the bones when the government finally gave him a proper burial.
I looked this up afterward — link below— and all that was found from L’Enfant’s first gravesite were two pieces of his bones and one tooth.
Park rangers are the best storytellers and the details stick. So when I saw all the tweets from Democrats this morning about L'Enfant, my thoughts went to human bones in tree roots.
(I put a bunch of links at the bottom for more reading on exhuming his body during a thunderstorm, the “reburial” at Arlington and his lifetime achievements.)
Anyway, Pelosi and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser wanted L’Enfant’s statue in the Capitol for purely political reasons. They are pushing to make the District a state – which would mean two solid Democratic votes in the Senate.
Since the states each have two statues in the Capitol building, they wanted to get one more for D.C. as a symbol that they are pushing for statehood. Here’s what Pelosi said:
As we unveil the statue, we are reminded of the fight for equality for the District. Since 1864, every state has been invited to contribute two statues to the Capitol to pay tribute to their most distinguished heroes. But for too long, the – D.C. has been excluded. That is why, in 2013, we welcomed the statue of Frederick Douglass to Emancipation Hall. Now D.C. will finally have equal recognition in the Capitol when it comes to statues, another step towards statehood the District deserves.
Then Pelosi added that,