Washington D.C.'s Overlooked Memorials

You’ve heard of D.C.’s famous memorials around the National Mall. But the nation's capital has many others worth checking out, too. So, ditch the guidebook and discover these overlooked DC memorials.
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Blink and you may miss this desk-size memorial to America’s 32nd president. When asked how he’d like to be remembered, FDR said a simple stone in front of the National Archives would do. For 30 years, he got his wish -- until a 7.5-acre memorial was dedicated to him by the Tidal Basin. Get more info about The Capital City. Check out our Travel Guide to Washington, D.C.

Sure, they’re a traffic nuisance. But the circles that cut through D.C.’s avenues are also loaded with history. Many of the circles (34, in all) are named after American Civil War generals, like Thomas Circle. Here, a statue honors General George Henry Thomas, a Southerner who stayed loyal to the Union at great personal cost.

When civil engineer Pierre Charles L’Enfant envisioned a future U.S. capital, he thought it should include a memorial “to celebrate the first rise of the Navy and consecrate its progress and achievements.” But it wasn’t until 1987 that the U.S. Navy Memorial was dedicated on Pennsylvania Avenue, America’s Main Street.

“What are those arches over there?” Anyone driving along 1-95 has had this thought when catching a glimpse of the U.S. Air Force Memorial from afar. Dedicated in 2006, its three stainless steel spires evoke the image of Air Force Thunderbirds in a precision bomb-burst maneuver.

Go ahead, sit on Uncle Albert’s lap. This personable memorial honors physics’ great genius. Tucked behind a grove of trees, beside the National Academy of Sciences, the memorial was dedicated in 1979 -- the centennial of Einstein’s birth.

At DC’s Southwest Waterfront, you’ll find this haunting tribute to the Titanic’s men, who gave up their lives so that women and children could be saved. Erected by the “women of America” in 1931, the 13-foot granite figure was designed by American sculptor Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney.

The Civil War saw African Americans granted the right to fight in defense of their country. The African American Civil War Memorial, at the corner of Vermont Avenue, honors the 209,145 such men who fought for the Union.

“Here we admit a wrong.” With these words, the Memorial to Japanese-American Patriotism in World War II commemorates the 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent forcibly placed in internment camps. It also honors the 30,000 who volunteered for the U.S. Armed Forces -- 800 of whom perished.

265,000 women served in the Vietnam War. All were volunteers. The Vietnam Women’s Memorial honors their role, often as nurses on the frontlines.

As in life, George Mason sits in the shadow of Thomas Jefferson, whose own memorial is a short walk away. Mason was the only Founding Father not to sign the U.S. Constitution, fearing it did not go far enough in protecting individual rights. What followed was the Bill of Rights.

In the 1880s, one man made it his personal mission to discourage people nationwide from drinking alcohol. So he funded “Temperance Fountains” across the U.S. Here’s one, on Pennsylvania Avenue. Pay your respects at this four-columned sculpture, before grabbing a beer at the tavern across the street.

D.C. is home to many war memorials, but none yet honor the 116,708 Americans killed in WWI. The closest that the nation’s capital comes is the District of Columbia War Memorial -- an understated marble structure that enshrines the names of nearly 500 Washingtonians killed in “the war to end all wars.”

Born to former slaves in South Carolina, Mary McLeod Bethune rose to become an American education and civil rights leader. This statue of her in D.C.’s Lincoln Park is inscribed with her last will and testament: “I leave you love. I love you hope...”

Overlooking the city he helped lay out, the Benjamin Banneker Park and Memorial in southwest D.C. honors the self-taught African-American astronomer and surveyor who helped survey the future US capital in 1791.

The president who ensured that future generations would have national parks to enjoy is, fittingly, honored in a bucolic setting of his own: the Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial, on an 88.5-acre island beside the Potomac River.

Every May, during National Police Week, thousands of officers and survivors visit the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial; it honors the 19,000 individuals who have died in the line of duty.

The Victims of Communism Memorial honors its victims, both known and unknown. It was dedicated on June 12, 2007, the 20th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s “tear down this wall” speech in front of the Berlin Wall.

The Civil War was fought in D.C., too. The Battle of Fort Stevens occurred in the district’s northwest quadrant on July 11-12, 1864. Years later, this memorial was dedicated to honor the men of the 25th NY Volunteer Cavalry, who died in battle. Get more info about The Capital City. Check out our Travel Guide to Washington, D.C.