The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

July 31, 2013

Other Views: Vandals threaten hospitality

— For all the millions of visitors who trek through Washington, D.C., each year, the national capital suffers remarkably few incidents of vandalism. Perhaps it’s because visitors realize that the various statues and memorials are in a very real sense “their” monuments.

Even defacement to make a political statement is rare. Twice, in 1991 and 2002, the statue of Christopher Columbus in front of Union Station was splashed with red paint and the slogan “510 Years Oppression,” presumably to mark the sufferings of the native peoples following his arrival in the New World.

The Vietnam War and the memorial to its veterans remain controversial, which must explain why the memorial’s black granite wall has been splashed with an oily substance and had swastikas carved into its surface. The Washington Post reports no such incidents since 2007.

The National Gallery has had the problem facing all art museums: an unhinged aesthete trying to attack certain paintings. Two years ago, in separate incidents of vandalism, the same woman attacked a painting by Gauguin and another by Matisse. She wound up in the city’s psychiatric hospital.

The infrequency likely explains the city’s sense of outrage when late last Thursday or early Friday someone splashed green paint on the giant statue of Abraham Lincoln in his memorial. This is as close as it gets to civic sacrilege in the capital.

Monday a vandal struck the great gothic National Cathedral, splashing green paint on the organ in the Bethlehem Chapel and similarly marking the floor, pews and a mural of the Children’s Chapel, where fixtures are scaled to fit a 6-year-old child.

Also Monday, green paint was found on the statue of Joseph Henry, the first secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, and on a statue of Martin Luther just outside the Luther Place Memorial Church. Church members at a post-service morning coffee found green paint mixed with feces splashed in the choir loft.

Police quickly arrested a suspect in the attack on the cathedral, a woman police described as homeless, speaking little or no English and probably having “mental health issues.”

The damage is quickly being repaired and should soon be unnoticeable to the average tourist. The real damage would be if the authorities, in an overabundance of caution, further tightened up access and security in a city that is still, for the most part, delightfully free and open.

— Scripps Howard News Service

 

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