Small Fish In A Big Sightseeing Pond | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Small Fish In A Big Sightseeing Pond

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The Butt-Millet Memorial Fountain, in honor of two men who perished on the Titanic.
Emily Friedman
The Butt-Millet Memorial Fountain, in honor of two men who perished on the Titanic.

The Washington Monument is the tallest building in the District, coming in at 555 feet. When you're busy looking up, there's a lot you miss, down below -- such as the Zero Milestone.

It's on the ellipse, about halfway between the White House and the Washington Monument. Because it's so close to those marquee destinations, a lot of people pass by but don't necessarily know what it is.

According to Pierre Charles L'Enfant's original city plan, this was the official starting point from which all distances in the country would be measured. And while that plan didn't quite pan out, Carolyn Crouch, the founder of walking tour company Washington Walks, says there is one road that did start here.

"This is the starting point of what was then the transcontinental highway known as the Lee Highway. It stretches across the southern part of the United States and it goes to San Diego," she says.

Before we move on to our next stop, one quick fact about the Zero Milestone. So if you google map Washington D.C., not a certain place here, just the name of the city, the little marker shows up on the Zero Milestone, a little trivia for you. Moving on to stop number two, about 100 feet from the White House, the Butt-Millet Memorial Fountain.

"We're looking at what should be a working fountain, but it's actually a memorial to two men," she says.

One hundred feet from the White House is pretty close. You'd think, they must be really important people -- and they were, about 100 years ago.

"And if you came here now, you wouldn't really know much about who these two men are," Crouch says.

So you have to do a little detective work. Take a look at the figures on the fountain.

"One is a military figure and the other is a figure holding a paint brush and a palette. And that gives us a clue as to who these men were," she says. "One was named Francis Davis Millet and he was the one who was an artist. He was very good friends with Archibald Butt who was from Georgia and had a career in the U.S. military."

Butt and Millet were key advisors and friends of the Roosevelt and Taft administrations. They both happened to be in Europe at the same time in the spring of 1912. So they decided to sail back to Washington together on a brand new ocean liner called "The Titanic."

"And then this tragedy strikes and they were both last seen giving their life preservers to women as the ship was sinking," Crouch says.

Within a month, their friends had raised enough money to build a memorial.

"But sadly," she says, "I think they've pretty much been forgotten."

If there's one spot that gets fewer visitors than the Butt-Millet Fountain or the Zero Milestone, it's Signers' Island. You cross over a wooden bridge to access the island where you'll find a memorial for the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence. There are 56 pieces of stone, each with the engraved signature of the signers.

Crouch says seeing the engraved signatures reminds visitors how signing the Declaration of Independence was a serious decision.

"Because this was an act of treason, this could have meant for them a death sentence or imprisonment. It wasn't the same sort of fireworks, joyous, how we acknowledge it today. It was, well, here we go, now what?" she says.

Although the site celebrates the very foundation of our country, it is not well known.

"A lot of people, if they've gone over there, they might think of it as Goose Guano Island because a lot of Canadian geese hang out there. They're very territorial about that place," Crouch says.

She understands how these geese feel. Signers' Island is a special place for her, too.

"This is where my husband proposed to me. I don't see any benches, but I know I was sitting down and I'm afraid I might have been sitting on one of the signers' stones. I don't know. But there was no one else here appropriately. He brought a little candle, lit it, got down on his knee and I was engaged to be married," Crouch says.

Just one of the benefits of knowing Washington D.C.'s most-missed monuments.

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