National Geographic : 1940 Apr
THE NATION'S CAPITAL BY NIGHT BY VOLKMAR WENTZEL Staff Photographer,National Geographic Magazine WHEN night falls over Washington, D. C., memorials, public buildings, and broad avenues become ethereal shapes in soft light and shadow. Flood lights, piercing the darkness, etch familiar landmarks in silver against a velvet sky. Unsuspected definition of form and contour is revealed. Affairs of state still demand attention and lights often burn late in Capitol, White House, or State Department, but there is a subtle change. Capitol dome, White House portico, Washington Monument, and Lincoln Memorial now shine as with an inner glow, and many a shadowy sculptured figure out of the country's rich history rides in soft illumination down broad ave nues or spacious Mall. To catch something of the witchery of Washington after dark, I walked parks and streets at night, hunting photogenic scenes. Some of the results are shown in the next sixteen pages. Principal figure of the facing photograph, and gleaming background for three others, is the United States Capitol. George Washington was present when its corner stone was laid, the Civil War was raging when its massive cast-iron dome was com pleted, but the splendid old structure still dominates the city. From Grant Memorial the camera catches the full splendor of the dome, shining brightly in a fresh coat of gray paint (page 515). Facing down the Mall is the mounted figure of General Grant, firm in his saddle, a picture of solid determination. For visitors who come to Washington by train, the Capitol bursts into view as they emerge from Union Station. Sweeping curves of a shadowy fountain bowl enfold the glistening dome (page 519). From the steps of the Treasury Building, the Capitol becomes a spectacular backdrop for historic Pennsylvania Avenue (page 520). Down this thoroughfare have passed the inaugural parades of all Presidents since Jefferson's second inauguration in 1805. The Capitol again looms in the back ground from the subdued atmosphere of the Darlington Memorial (page 527). Carl Paul Jennewein's fountain honors a dis tinguished Washington lawyer. A woman, symbolic of divine perfection, protects a deer, representing the weak. From the Sherman Memorial the flood lighted marble shaft of the Washington Monument is revealed above the trees of the Ellipse (page 525). The stone sentry is one of four surrounding Carl Rohl Smith's statue of General William T. Sherman. The view of the Washington Monument through the Lincoln Memorial's double line of white marble columns is familiar to hun dreds of thousands of visitors (page 529). The shaft blots out the dome of the distant Capitol, but the wings of the building are softly outlined. Within the classic Memo rial, the notable figure of Abraham Lincoln, by Daniel Chester French, is seated in a flag-draped chair (page 530). Mr. French also executed the Du Pont Memorial Fountain with figures represent ing Sea, Stars, and Wind (page 526). GIANTS GUARD RARE DOCUMENTS Seen through the tracery of naked trees is the National Archives Building, designed by John Russell Pope (page 516). Gigantic granite figures by James Earle Fraser, rep resenting "Heritage" and "Guardianship," flank the broad steps (page 522). The United States Supreme Court Build ing, dazzling by day, shines by night with a soft, diffused luster (page 528). Not far from the Court chambers, W. W. Story's heroic bronze of Chief Justice John Mar shall rests in mellow light (page 518). The Doric portico of the Government Auditorium, flanked by buildings of the Labor Department and Interstate Com merce Commission, forms a central motif for a vast expanse of classic architecture (pages 517 and 523). Backlighting silhouettes the equestrian figure of Lafayette in the window of his toric Dolly Madison house on Lafayette Square (page 521). The figure is a model of a statue presented to France by the sculptor, Paul Bartlett. The old home and the adjoining Benjamin Tayloe mansion now house the Cosmos Club, rendezvous of scientific men for more than half a century. I made most of the photographs on damp and foggy nights, for I found that the heavy atmosphere lessened excessive contrasts, yielding a softer tone. Exposures ranged from one to five minutes, with occa sional use of a flash bulb.