Neighbors Up in Arms Over Proposed “Swamp Fox” Statue in Marion (Turtle) Park
by Larry Janezich
The neighbors of Marion Park are organizing to stop or slow down an effort to locate a larger than life-sized statue of Francis Marion, the park’s namesake and an American Revolutionary War military officer who used irregular methods to fight the British in South Carolina. Known as the Swamp Fox, Marion’s legacy is controversial, (See Wikipedia, here: http://bit.ly/1o6BerY)
Neighbors of the park rose at last Tuesday’s ANC meeting to question whether a Capitol Hill neighborhood is an appropriate place for a statue of a former slave holder who they said mistreated his slaves and participated in brutal tactics in a war against Native Americans. Objections were also raised regarding the failure of the National Park Service to involve neighbors in the process, on the proposed statue’s negative impact on recreational use of the park and on the lack of provision for maintaining the site.
The National Park Service was on hand at Tuesday’s meeting, to justify use of the site for the statue – Marion Park is the last piece of federally owned land on South Carolina Avenue. The agency received a tongue lashing from ANC commissioners who faulted them for failure to inform the ANC of the plan, failure to follow up on concerns raised about the project raised at the Planning and Zoning Committee earlier this month, and failure to coordinate the project with the neighborhood – as well as for the stalled work on improving the park. Despite these reservations, the ANC approved a letter supporting approval for siting the memorial in Marion Park on a narrow vote of 4 – 3 with 2 abstentions.
Neighbors of the park have begun collecting signatures for a petition to the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission and other agencies to oppose the statue. You can find the petition and the neighbors’ concerns in the Library at the top of the home page. (See here:
One of the neighbors, Helen Luryi, when asked about the feelings of the nearby residents, said, “Marion is a controversial figure. We’re unhappy there’s been little input from the community and many of us are just now finding out about this proposal. The ANC let it go forward despite comments from the community that were 100% negative. The park has been under construction on and off for years – in fact, it’s under construction right now – and we just want to be able to use the park fully. We have enough statues in DC and this park is a small, open space that a statue would ruin.”
Marion Park is between 4th & 6th Streets and E Street and South Carolina Avenue, SE. It is also known as Turtle Park for the large turtle in the children’s play area. MPD Substation 1-D-1 faces the park, as does Pleasant Lane Baptist Missionary Church. The latter was designed for Mt. Jezreel Baptist Church in 1883 by Calvin T.S. Brent, DC’s first African American architect. The proposed statue is the brainchild of John F. McCabe, a Columbia, South Carolina financial advisor. (His website with additional information on the project is here: http://www.swampfoxmemorial.org/)
The National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission will meet to hear the case for siting the memorial by Palmetto Conservation Foundation (a sponsor of the memorial, and based in Columbia, South Carolina) – in a public meeting on September 23, 2014 at 2:00 pm, in Room 311, the Boardroom of the Commission of Fine Arts, at the National Building Museum, 401 S Street, N.W., Washington, D.C
Congress authorized the NPS to conduct commemorative work to honor Marion in 2008. That authorization is likely to expire before the work is finished, requiring a re-authorization.