Last updated: August 1, 2014
Decorative Elements of Memorial Bridge
Neo-classicism reigns on Memorial Bridge. Architects from the firm McKim, Meade, and White chose decorative elements from the ancient Greek and Roman world that evoke honor and unity.
Credit: Library of Congress/Jet LoweTwo sculptures by Leo Friedlander, “Sacrifice” and “Valor,” stand atop pedestals on the Washington, D.C. end of Memorial Bridge. They symbolize the defensive strength of the nation. Two nearby sculptures, “Music and Harvest” and “Aspiration and Literature,” represent the Arts of Peace. They symbolize the nourishment of the people of the country through its culture and the richness of the land. The sculptures were originally designed to be granite, but in 1938 they were cast in bronze instead. rather than sculpt them in granite. World War II intervened and a shortage of bronze meant that the statues could not be cast until after the war. All four statues were cast and gilded at foundries in four Italian cities as a gift to the people of the United States. In 1951, they floated up the Potomac River on barges and were lifted onto their pedestals.Download 7.6 MB
Credit: NPS/Emily ZivotEvery surface on Memorial Bridge and Avenue is covered with symbols for honor and national pride. This pylon on the cemetery side of the bridge is carved with bas relief oak leaves and poppies. During the Roman Republic recipients of the second highest military honor wore a crown of oak leaves. Today's United States military still uses oak leaves as a sign of honor. They are pinned in clusters to an award to indicate that it has been given multiple times. Poppies became a symbol of remembrance after World War I. They covered the disturbed earth of battlefields and graves and were described in the poem "In Flanders Fields." The "meander" beneath the wreath of oak leaves is a decorative border in keeping with the bridge's neo-classical design. It appears frequently in ancient Greek art. As a single, continuous line it symbolizes unity and infinity.Download 4.2 MB
Credit: Library of Congress/Jet LoweBas relief eagles decorate the supports for Memorial Bridge. Like the eagle in the Great Seal of the United States, each holds an olive branch in its talons, a symbol of peace. But the eagle in the Great Seal also holds a bundle of arrows, and the arrows are missing from the eagles on Memorial Bridge. Two fasces form an upright border around the eagle medallion. In ancient Rome the fasces, a bundle of sticks with an ax blade protruding, was a symbol of a magistrate's power to administer the law. When a magistrate entered a Roman city he removed the blade from his fasces to symbolize the right of citizens to appeal a ruling. Fasces--with blades removed--also appear on the statue of Lincoln in his memorial.Download 1.8 MB