A slim granite figure stretches its arms out towards the DC waterfront, an arresting figure with an air of mystery. It sits at the end of an out-of-the-way promenade at the northern tip of Fort McNair, and its placement seems almost accidental. Get close enough to read the inscription and the plot thickens: “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.”
So how and why did a Titanic memorial end up here, in this quiet corner by a Washington army post? The short answer is, it didn’t start out here.
The Titanic Memorial first lived further north, in a coveted spot along the Potomac. At the southern end of Rock Creek Park between Georgetown and the Lincoln Memorial, the statue first stretched those elegant arms out towards the city, with the wide river flowing just behind. It was unveiled in 1931 by Helen Herron Taft, widow of William Howard Taft who had been president at the time of the sinking.
The figure had been chosen in a competition, restricted to female artists, sponsored by a group who called themselves the Women's Titanic Memorial Association. It’s about 15 feet tall standing on a wide granite base, and was designed by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. She was not only an artist but a prominent socialite patron of the arts, benefitting from the double wealth whammy of being a Vanderbilt and marrying a Whitney.
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