Jefferson National Expansion Memorial is one of the top 10 tourist attractions in Washington DC – One of the most significant attractions along the Tidal Basin actually drew scorn when it was first proposed on this site as it meant the removal of numerous cherry trees. This monument, further mocked via its nickname of “Jefferson’s muffin,” was dedicated to the third president of the United States who was also an avid architect, philosopher, inventor and intellect (speaking five languages) —Thomas Jefferson.
The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial is a domed shape building that is actually based upon a structure of Jefferson’s own design. The architect, John Russell Pope, paid the ultimate tribute to Jefferson by integrating a similar rotunda in his design to the one Jefferson had created at the University of Virginia. The rotunda rests atop a rounded colonnade that features tall Ionic columns gracing its front façade. The building is largely constructed of white marble that was quarried from mines in Vermont along with Georgia granite, Tennessee marble and Indiana limestone.
The pope has designed a number of other buildings of note within Washington, D.C., but less for a weak stomach, may have entered another field of study. Planning to attend John Hopkins University in Baltimore to study medicine, he decided he didn’t have the stomach for it after sitting in on a medical procedure. He shifted his focus to architecture where he would later get a degree from Columbia University in 1894. His other well recognized buildings in D.C. Include the House of the Temple (1915), the National Archives Building (1935) and the West Building of the National Gallery of Art (1941).
Unfortunately, the Pope passed away in 1937, just two years prior to construction beginning on the Jefferson Memorial. Oversight would fall onto the shoulders of Daniel P. Higgins and Otto R. Eggers to ensure the Pope’s design was faithfully implemented. The cornerstone for the building (an eleven-ton piece of Vermont marble) was laid on November 15, 1939 with a copy of some of Jefferson’s most famous writings including the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. The monument was formally dedicated on April 13, 1943, Jefferson’s two-hundredth birthday. Leading the dedication was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
One member, or element, that was missing at the dedication is the famous nineteen foot, five ton bronze statue that currently graces the interior of the monument. The statue by Rudolph Evans had not been fully completed and thus a plaster version (painted as if to look like bronze) had to be installed temporarily. The delay had been largely driven by a material shortage due to World War II.
Rudolph was awarded the commission for the statue of Thomas Jefferson in 1941. His design was selected out of one-hundred one entries. The final statue, which Rudolph designed was cast in New York by the Roman Bronze Company and installed in 1947.
The statue features Jefferson stands stoically with a copy of the Declaration of Independence clutched within his left hand. The long jacket he appears to be wearing was supposedly a gift from his dear friend and fellow patriot Tadeusz Kosciuszko.
Surrounding Jefferson is five quotations from some of his most memorable writings. In 1972 a transcript error was noted by a professor from Northwestern University on a quotation taken from the Declaration of Independence. This quote located along the southwestern wall contains the word “inalienable” in lieu of “unalienable” as drafted on the Declaration of Independence.
Also worthy of note around the memorial is a marble pediment that resides just above the main entryway on the north side. The pediment is titled The Drafting of the Declaration of Independence and was sculpted by Adolph A. Weinman in 1943. Amongst the famous faces you will see include the likes of Mr. Jefferson, along with Benjamin Franklin and John Adams.