Sunday, September 2, 2018

"Grief": The Clover Adams Memorial


The highlight of my day was a visit to a cemetery to become reacquainted with the most haunting memorial in Washington, D.C., that of Marian “Clover” Adams.

Although she was a prominent nineteenth-century Washington socialite and fine photographer, Clover Adams is known today largely because of her unique grave marker.  The wife of a noted historian and scion of a great American political family, she committed suicide in 1885.

The monument that marks her burial site was designed by the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens and commissioned by her husband, Henry Adams. The large enshrouded bronze is located in Rock Creek Cemetery, and is arguably the most noted individual sculpture in the nation’s capital.

Distraught over his wife’s death, Adams could not bring himself to mention her in his important autobiography, “The Education of Henry Adams.”  He also is buried there.

Saint-Gaudens was the pre-eminent sculptor of his time.  In addition to the Adams Memorial, also known as “Grief,” he is remembered for the famous Robert Gould Shaw Memorial, celebrating the Massachusetts 54th regiment of the Civil War, and the design of a twenty-dollar gold coin, which many consider to be the finest American numismatic piece.

Another famous person associated with the Adams Memorial is Stanford White, the New York architect, who designed the granite plot. 

Probably overlooked by most tourists—it certainly is off the beaten path and is actually a little challenging to find—“Grief” is art at its finest:  beautiful, evocative and thought-provoking.  

For years, Eleanor Roosevelt would visit the memorial as a source of solace for the travails of her life.

Clover and Henry Adams and their friends Clara and John Hay and geologist Clarence King all lived together in a large, combined house, which is now the Hay-Adams Hotel in Washington, D.C.  There is a legend that Clover Adams roams the halls of the hotel today.

An excellent book on the Adamses and their housemates is told by Patricia O’Toole in The Five of Hearts: An Intimate Portrait of Henry Adams and His Friends, 1880-1918.

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