Ar­ling­ton Ar­ti­facts go ON auc­tion block

The ceme­tery, be­set by ques­tion­ing over its stew­ard­ship of vet­er­ans’ graves, is un­able to ex­plain why his­toric urns were re­moved from its care and are now await­ing the high­est bid­der.

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY CHRIS­TIAN DAVEN­PORT

Grand and or­nate, the nine foot-dec­o­ra­tive mar­ble urns for decades flanked the stage of Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery’s Me­mo­rial Am­phithe­ater, ad­ja­cent to the Tomb of the Un­knowns.

Next week­end, how­ever, the two urns, de­signed by the same firm that built the New York Pub­lic Li­brary and the Rus­sell Se­nate and Can­non House of­fice build­ings, will stand not at the fore­front of one of the nation’s most ven­er­ated shrines but rather are set to be up for sale at the

Po­tomack Com­pany, an Alexan­dria auc­tion house.

The urns are lit­er­ally “a piece of his­tory,” as the an­tiques dealer who now owns them likes to say. But their his­toric value — ev­i­dent in pho­tos of pres­i­den­tial vis­its since Woodrow Wil­son ded­i­cated the me­mo­rial in 1920 — is ex­actly why preser­va­tion­ists were stunned to learn that they are be­ing sold to the high­est bid­der.

“It’s alarm­ing to see por­tions of our na­tional legacy be­ing sold off,” said Robert Nieweg, di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Trust for His­toric Preser­va­tion’s south­ern field of­fice. “It raises­somered flags for us, andwe have some very sig­nif­i­cant con­cerns about the ceme­tery’s stew­ard­ship of this ex­traor­di­nar­ily his­toric place.”

How the urns, wit­ness to so many pub­lic cer­e­monies, landed in pri­vate hands is some­thing of a mys­tery. Un­der the strict pro­ce­dures the fed­eral govern­ment has adopted to pro­tect its prop­erty — and par­tic­u­larly ar­ti­facts with his­toric and artis­tic value— the urns should have been re­stored or put in a mu­seum, not put out on the open mar­ket, preser­va­tion­ists say.

Since 1997, the urns have been at DHS De­signs, an an­tiques shop in Queen­stown on Mary­land’s East­ern Shore. Dar­ryl Sav­age, the owner, is clos­ing his store and auc­tion­ing off his in­ven­tory, which in­cludes 14 mar­ble balus­ters that were part of the rail­ing that rings the am­phithe­ater.

In an in­ter­view, he said he acquired the urns from an­other dealer, whomhe would not iden­tify. That dealer, Sav­age said, acquired them from a com­pany that ren­o­vated the am­phithe­ater in the mid-1990s. Sav­age said the com­pany re­placed the urns with mod­ern repli­cas and was al­lowed to take away the orig­i­nals.

The Depart­ment of the Army, whose

stew­ard­ship of the ceme­tery has been ques­tioned since an in­ves­ti­ga­tion found wide­spread burial prob­lems there last year, con­firmed that the con­trac­tor, Omni Con­struc­tion — which later merged with Clark Con­struc­tion, a ven­er­a­ble Bethesda firm — was to “dis­pose” of the urns.

But the Army, which learned of the sale of the urns from The Washington Post, has not been able to find the con­tract and could not pro­vide de­tails about how the urns or balus­ters were to be dis­posed of, said Gary Tall­man, an Army spokesman.

Missing pa­per­work has been an on­go­ing source of trou­ble as the Army has strug­gled with man­age­ment is­sues at the ceme­tery. Last sum­mer, Army of­fi­cials told a Se­nate com­mit­tee that they could not find more than a dozen con­tracts that were part of the ceme­tery’s failed ef­fort to dig­i­tize its burial records.

Tall­man also could not say Fri­day whether the ceme­tery had sought in­put from the agen­cies that monitor dis­posal of govern­ment prop­erty and preser­va­tion of his­toric ar­ti­facts.

“ This is just an­other ex­am­ple of the poor con­tract man­age­ment at Ar­ling­ton Ceme­tery in re­cent years, and this can­not con­tinue,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said in a state­ment re­leased Satur­day. “Both the Army and the contractors re­spon­si­ble for this have some ex­plain­ing to do to the Amer­i­can peo­ple. The Sub­com­mit­tee on Con­tract­ing Over­sight will in­ves­ti­gate how this hap­pened.”

McCaskill is the chair­man of the sub­com­mit­tee, and late last year she co-spon­sored leg­is­la­tion to hold the Army ac­count­able for the ceme­tery’s graves.

Eric Ful­ton, a spokesman for Clark, said a sub­con­trac­tor on the am­phithe­ater ren­o­va­tion, Pagliaro Broth­ers Stone of Up­per Marl­boro, was tasked with dis­pos­ing of the urns. Bob Benedetti, a Pagliaro vice pres­i­dent, said late Fri­day that he did not know what had hap­pened to the urns.

“I would sus­pect that they were back there for crush­ing,” he said. “I’m not sure if some­one bought them from some­one in the crusher plant or not. I don’t re­call.”

The fact the the urns are now for sale “doesn’t bother me,” he said. “ There is noth­ing I can do about it. Old stone to us is gen­er­ally a cost.”

The Army, mean­while, is con­tin­u­ing to in­ves­ti­gate how the urns ended up in pri­vate hands, and on Fri­day it asked the auc­tion house to “ halt the sale pend­ing ad­di­tional re­search to de­ter­mine right­ful own­er­ship and dis­po­si­tion.”

Given the unique na­ture of the urns, Nieweg, of the Na­tional Trust, also called on the auc­tion house to can­cel the sale and re­turn the ar­ti­facts to the ceme­tery.

El­iz­a­beth Wain­stein, owner of the Po­tomack Com­pany, said she con­tacted the Pen­tagon as soon as she got the con­sign­ment and was as­sured that the urns had been re­moved from the am­phithe­ater in ac­cor­dance with the ren­o­va­tion con­tract. She said that Sav­age, the cur­rent owner, has “clear ti­tle to the urns and balus­ters” and “ the full right to sell them at auc­tion.”

In 2007, a sim­i­lar con­tro­versy erupted af­ter the Army an­nounced plans to re­place the mon­u­ment at the Tomb of the Un­knowns be­cause of cracks that zigzagged across its sur­face. The ceme­tery ar­gued that the ceme­tery, known for its rows of metic­u­lously main­tained ivory white head­stones, had to main­tain its pris­tine ap­pear­ance.

But preser­va­tion­ists ar­gued that the orig­i­nal mon­u­ment could and should be re­paired to main­tain the au­then­tic­ity of the tomb. Ul­ti­mately they pre­vailed, and the cracks were fixed.

Still, con­cerns lin­gered about the ceme­tery’s abil­ity to man­age the del­i­cate bal­ance be­tween main­tain­ing an im­mac­u­late shrine to the fallen and pre­serv­ing its his­toric legacy.

“It was our ex­pe­ri­ence with the ceme­tery that they were bound and de­ter­mined to toss the tomb into the garbage and re­place it with a mere replica,” Nieweg said. “My fear is that if the urns were tossed out in the 1990s, then that’s the very kind of pol­icy the Army im­ple­mented there: Throw away the au­then­tic el­e­ments of this de­signed me­mo­rial and re­place them.”

Since then, the Na­tional Trust has urged the Depart­ment of the Army to list the ceme­tery as a Na­tional Land­mark on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places — a des­ig­na­tion that would doc­u­ment the site’s mon­u­ments and help pro­tect its ar­ti­facts.

The ceme­tery’s pre­vi­ous lead­er­ship, which was ousted last sum­mer in the wake of the burial scan­dal, re­sisted, Nieweg said. Ina let­ter to the Na­tional Trust, Kathryn Con­don, the new di­rec­tor of the Army ceme­ter­ies pro­gram, wrote that she was “sur­prised” the ceme­tery had not been land­marked and that her staff would look into seek­ing nom­i­na­tion.

Carol Shull, chief of Her­itage Ed­u­ca­tion Ser­vices for the Na­tional Park Ser­vice, which over­sees the Na­tional Reg­is­ter, said she had as­sumed the ceme­tery had been listed. When told it was not, she was in­cred­u­lous. Shull checked the records, and con­firmed that the ceme­tery is not on the reg­is­ter, but Ar­ling­ton House, the home of Con­fed­er­ate Gen. Robert E. Lee that sits in the ceme­tery but is man­aged by the Na­tional Park Ser­vice, is.

There is no doubt the am­phithe­ater would be el­i­gi­ble. Lo­cated on a bluff over­look­ing the cap­i­tal, it’s where dig­ni­taries, of­ten in­clud­ing the pres­i­dent, gather for Me­mo­rial and Vet­er­ans Day cer­e­monies. It’s where Pres­i­dent War­ren G. Hard­ing, stand­ing be­tween the urns, presided over the in­ter­ment of re­main sat the Tomb of the Un­knowns in 1921. And it’s where Vice Pres­i­dent Bi­den stood last Vet­er­ans Day.

De­signed by Car­rere and Hast­ings, one of the most prom­i­nent ar­chi­tec­ture firms of the early 20th cen­tury, the am­phithe­ater is made of Danby mar­ble quar­ried from Ver­mont. Around the frieze above the colon­nade are the names of 44 bat­tles from the Amer­i­can Revo­lu­tion to the Span­ish-Amer­i­can War. Above the stage reads a por­tion of Abra­ham Lin­coln’s Get­tys­burg Ad­dress: “We here highly re­solve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”

Af­ter con­struc­tion was com­pleted in 1920, Washington state’s Pull­man Her­ald pro­claimed the am­phithe­ater “the most splen­did mon­u­ment to the heroic dead ever erected by any nation.” The urns, carved with rams’ heads, snakes and ea­gles, sat atop pedestals in niches that frame the stage, an in­te­gral and sym­bolic part of the me­mo­rial.

“ They are ab­so­lutely gor­geous,” said Mark Alan He­witt, an ar­chi­tect who co-wrote a book on Car­rere and Hast­ings. “ They’re just su­perb and very prom­i­nent in the de­sign. So to take them off seems very odd.”

Af­ter years of ex­po­sure to the el­e­ments, the urns are weath­ered, and parts of each pedestal are bro­ken. But art his­to­ri­ans ar­gue that im­per­fec­tions of­ten add value to ar­ti­facts: The Venus de Milo isn’t cher­ished less be­cause its arms are missing; the Lib­erty Bell isn’t di­min­ished be­cause it is cracked.

Even if the urns were be­yond re­pair, they are, given their lin­eage and crafts­man­ship, “mu­seum wor­thy ob­jects” that should be on pub­lic dis­play, said Kirk Sav­age, author of “ Mon­u­ment Wars: Washington D.C., the Na­tional Mall and the Trans­for­ma­tion of the Me­mo­rial Land­scape.” “These are pub­lic ob­jects that are owned by all of us, or should be.”

Af­ter ac­quir­ing the urns, Sav­age ini­tially priced the pair at $125,000. But they never sold. Now the auc­tion house es­ti­mates that they could sell for $20,000 to $40,000.

Wain­stein, the auc­tion house owner, said she hopes a phi­lan­thropist will buy them and do­nate them to a mu­seum or re­turn them to the ceme­tery. But she makes no prom­ises as to what might hap­pen on the open mar­ket.

“ This a pub­lic auc­tion and ev­ery­one is wel­come,” she said. “ The high­est bid­der is the win­ner.”

GER­ALD MARTINEAU FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

NA­TIONAL ARCHIVES

TheMe­mo­rial Am­phithe­ater has been the set­ting for many solemn com­mem­o­ra­tions, in­clud­ing by Pres­i­dent Dwight D. Eisen­hower in 1958. The orig­i­nal 9-foot-tall urns flank­ing the stage were re­moved in the mid-1990s and re­placed by repli­cas dur­ing ren­o­va­tion work.

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