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Monday, January 6, 2014

Who's That Dude?

You can’t go a few blocks in Washington without tripping over a statue. In some cases, those depicted are familiar faces. Hello, Abe. Greetings, Mr. Einstein. But there are other times, when, after tripping over the statue, you look up and wonder, “Who’s that dude?” Parenthetically, for those offended by the male gender connotation of dude, note that the vast majority of DC's statues depict men.

Say you are wandering through Meridian Park, located in northwest DC. Suddenly, you stumble upon a statue of a dude flanked by a twosome representing law and democracy. Quick, who's that dude? It's James Buchanan. President #15 was hardly a gem--he’s rated among the worst by historians. The pre-Civil War leader is noted for doing little to prevent the growing schism between North and South. Nonetheless, the country’s only bachelor president gets a statue in the nation's capital, albeit hidden away in a place most visitors will never get to.

Even though Buchanan is somewhat obscure, at least he has the presidential claim to fame. If you pass by the Samuel Hahnemann Monument at the intersection of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, you have every right to wonder, “who’s that dude?”  Hahnemann was a German physician known for developing homeopathy. In the early 1900s, the American Institute of Homeopathy dedicated the impressive bronze and granite structure to this early Western practitioner of alternative medicine.

Who’s lesser-known than Hahnemann? Does the name John Ericsson ring a bell? If it doesn’t, don’t worry, you don’t have a screw loose. But Ericsson, who is honored with a national memorial near the National Mall (Ohio and Independence), did invent the screw propeller. The Swedish engineer revolutionized naval history, it is said, with this invention. The dude also designed the USS Monitor, which was instrumental in the Union victory during the Civil War.

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