Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

March 9, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

THE ROBERT A. TAFT MEMORIAL AND CARILLON....I have a political trivia question on my mind. Maybe Tomasky knows the answer. Or maybe someone here does.

Here it is. When I was visiting Washington DC last December, a guide on one of the tour buses did a spiel about the Robert A. Taft bell tower. Among other things, he said that it was oriented to face the Department of Labor because Taft was the guy responsible for writing one of the country's seminal pieces of labor legislation.

Now, this is true. The Taft-Hartley Act is a seminal piece of labor legislation. However, it's more accurately described as a seminal piece of anti-labor legislation, and I have a hard time believing that even Taft's fans would be cynical enough to pretend that he was a friend of labor.

So: Is this story true? If so, was it an attempt to give Taft some undeserved working man cred? Or was it a crafty way of telling labor unions that Taft continued to have his eye on them even in death? (In which case I'd give them credit for a surprisingly sly sense of humor.)

Anybody know?

UPDATE: In comments, Michael Rebain provides a history lesson:

The Taft Memorial was dedicated in 1959. The Labor Department's Frances Perkins Building was not completed until 1974. Prior to moving into the current headquarters, it was housed at 14th and Constitution (the current EPA headquarters).

In other words, the story is bollocks unless the statue of Taft was meant to have telescopic vision.

Kevin Drum 12:22 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

Just another lie.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on March 9, 2006 at 12:56 AM | PERMALINK

That tour-guide spiel was most likely written by some intern who had no idea who Robert A. Taft was, and only vaguely knew that Taft-Hartley had something to do with labor, who was just trying to be clever.

Besides, when you're on those tour buses, who really listens to the guides?

Posted by: dr sardonicus on March 9, 2006 at 12:59 AM | PERMALINK

Jeez, I'm too busy trying to find work in the wonderful Ventura County! I don't have time to think about labor issues.

...or do I?

Posted by: Darryl Pearce on March 9, 2006 at 1:00 AM | PERMALINK

The carillon is symbolic. A friend of labor in the "for whom the bells toll" sense.

Posted by: focus on March 9, 2006 at 1:05 AM | PERMALINK

Are you implying that the Labor Department is a friend of the workers, Kevin?

Posted by: ogmb on March 9, 2006 at 1:09 AM | PERMALINK

I'm always dumbfounded by what the tour guides say passing through our campus. Entertainment and truthiness are their major goals.

Posted by: B on March 9, 2006 at 1:12 AM | PERMALINK

The only question about any place in Washington should be "Is it a site where we can place and treat the wounded during the Retaking"

Posted by: R.L. on March 9, 2006 at 1:24 AM | PERMALINK

Wikipedia says nothing about Why

"No place is so strongly fortified that money could not capture it." - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Posted by: daCascadian on March 9, 2006 at 3:05 AM | PERMALINK

Perhaps this why the Labor Thing;

Taft lost his father in 1930. Losses continued with the onset of the Great Depression. His law practice survived along with his personal fortune; however, devastation hit his political circle. He had been elected to the state senate in 1930, but failed to be reelected in 1932. His friend, President Hoover, and other friends in the Hoover administration, were voted out of office and badly discredited. His own reputation untarnished, however, Taft found new direction with his opposition to incoming president Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. But never having to deal with money issues before, and previously unaware of how the poor lived, Taft would gain new insight into the American people.

By 1935 Taft recognized the need to help the underprivileged. He then began to endorse federal relief programs, unemployment insurance and old-age pensions. He also supported government regulation of the banking and securities industries. Still relatively liberal on those issues as well as government-regulated collective bargaining, he hoped to win the approval and backing of the American Federation of Labor (AFL).

Posted by: one eye buck tooth [X^B on March 9, 2006 at 3:39 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin -- a nice little site in Washington DC that's not particularly hidden is the garden behind the back entrance to the Air and Space Museum, just across Independence Ave. I've been told that it's maintained by Agriculture Dept employees, and there's always a nice variety of vegetable and flower plants growing amidst the traffic and tourism during the spring summer and fall. I get to Washington on a fairly regular basis, and try to stroll through it when I can. One summer day my son (who was then 4 or so) and I watched an enormous praying mantis snatch up an unsuspecting honey bee and eat the whole thing inside of 10 minutes (with the exception of a couple of discarded drumsticks). Apparently one eats a honey bee carefully, from the head back.

Posted by: David on March 9, 2006 at 3:58 AM | PERMALINK

There are no corporations in heaven.

Posted by: Robert A Taft on March 9, 2006 at 4:43 AM | PERMALINK

The memorial is next to the Capitol, which seems appropriate. The Department of Labor happens to be next door. The maps I have don't suggest that the memorial is particularly oriented towards either. This factoid sounds like pure invention.

Posted by: bad Jim on March 9, 2006 at 5:25 AM | PERMALINK

There are no unions in heaven.

Posted by: Cesar Chavez on March 9, 2006 at 5:36 AM | PERMALINK

The Taft Memorial was dedicated in 1959. The Labor Department's Frances Perkins Building was not completed until 1974. Prior to moving into the current headquarters, it was housed at 14th and Constitution (the current EPA headquarters).

Posted by: Michael Rebain on March 9, 2006 at 6:11 AM | PERMALINK

"Ask not for whom the Taft bell tower tolls; Labor, it tolls for you."

Posted by: Shag from Brookline on March 9, 2006 at 6:55 AM | PERMALINK

Like all such memorials in D.C., this thing was created by "popular subscription" (in this case, meaning by Old Guard Republicans). No different than the FDR memorial or any other. Anyone who thinks these things are non-partisan needs another think

In any event, the Department of Labor connection is just silly tour guide stuff -- understandable, I guess, because you've got to have some kind of running shtick. Uncle Sugar himself has this to say (on the website of the Architect of the Capitol):

"The Robert A. Taft Memorial and Carillon is located north of the Capitol, on Constitution Avenue between New Jersey Avenue and First Street, N.W. Designed by architect Douglas W. Orr, the memorial consists of a Tennessee marble tower and a 10-foot bronze statue of Senator Taft sculpted by Wheeler Williams. The shaft of the tower measures 100 feet high, 11 feet deep, and 32 feet wide. Above the statue is inscribed, "This Memorial to Robert A. Taft, presented by the people to the Congress of the United States, stands as a tribute to the honesty, indomitable courage, and high principles of free government symbolized by his life."

"At the dedication ceremony on April 14, 1959, former President Herbert Hoover stated, 'When these great bells ring out, it will be a summons to integrity and courage.'"

Posted by: Hemlock for Gadflies on March 9, 2006 at 7:01 AM | PERMALINK

"At the dedication ceremony on April 14, 1959, former President Herbert Hoover stated, 'When these great bells ring out, it will be a summons to integrity and courage.'"

So they've been silent all these years?

Posted by: S Ra on March 9, 2006 at 8:04 AM | PERMALINK

My dad was a union guy to the marrow of his bones, and the first time I criticized Taft-Harteley, he was surprised. He thought that the T-H act protected labor. So, it's apparently not an wholly uncommmon misperception.

Posted by: Scott Paeth on March 9, 2006 at 8:23 AM | PERMALINK

On the south side of the Treasury building is a statue of General Sherman. Sherman and the horse are facing north, so the legend is that it was placed that way because the horse's ass is facing South.

Other trivia: Lafayette Square, on the north side of the White House, has large bronze statues on marble bases at its four corners. One has a statue of General Lafayette and below him is a buxom nude women holding out a sword to him. From the day it was dedicated it's been known as, "I'll give you back your sword if you give me back my clothes."

Posted by: Wally on March 9, 2006 at 8:31 AM | PERMALINK

The Taft Memorial was dedicated in 1959. The Labor Department's Frances Perkins Building was not completed until 1974. Prior to moving into the current headquarters, it was housed at 14th and Constitution (the current EPA headquarters).
Posted by: Michael Rebain

Reminds me of a glaring error in one of James Lee Burke's Robicheaux novels. The kind that comes from writing about SoLA from a 'ranch' in Montana. Had a nice little payoff for me.

I was in Elliot's Bookstore and there was a large display of Burke's novels. I mentioned to the owner that I'd spotted a real howler in, I think (not worth effort at this point to look for it), 'A Stained White Radiance'.

"Tell me," he said, 'if it's good you can choose any book you want from my stock. It's worth it to me since I'm supposed to have lunch with James Lee next month at a bookseller's meeting. I'd love to be able to gig him a bit."

Burke has Dave Robicheaux driving from New Iberia to New Orleans on I-10. As he comes to the Mississippi River Bridge he muses about seeing the state capital building which had been 'home to scailwags and carpetbaggers since Reconstruction.'

Well, boys and girls, that would have to be the Old Capital, which is not visibile from where Burke says Robicheaux was. What you can see from that point is the current State Capital Building which wasn't completed until 1934 or so...

Got my comped book - a collection of Damon Runyon's short stories.

Posted by: CFShep on March 9, 2006 at 8:48 AM | PERMALINK

An affluent uncle of mine must have made a donation to the Taft monument, as a reminder of who ought to have been President. He loathed that fake-Republican Eisenhower.

The Labor building sits atop the freeway that runs under the Mall. Planning for the freeway initially included an open trench, so motorists could enjoy the view of the Capitol.

Posted by: Dave on March 9, 2006 at 8:51 AM | PERMALINK

CFShep-Burke writes fiction, you know, stuff that is made up. The tour guide is spouting an obvious falsehood as some kind of historical homily. There is a difference.

Could you send me the Runyon stories when you're done?

Posted by: bobbyp on March 9, 2006 at 9:19 AM | PERMALINK

Could you send me the Runyon stories when you're done?
Posted by: bobbyp

LOL It's "Romance in the Roaring Forties and Other Stories". Includes "Butch Minds the Baby" and other delights. That guy could flat out write a bit, eh?

So it wasn't a perfect analogy. Still amuses me.
James Lee was, after all, writing all these things from, I believe, Montana and making much of his purchase of a lovely old house in New Iberia which he was extensively restoring but not living in.

I used to hear those Vieux Carre mule-drawn carriage ride 'guides' spouting truly bizarre New Orleans 'history'all the time. I'm aware that such persons are not exactly known for their erudition.

I think the 'guides' were, in any case, mostly guys who'd been unable to keep their jobs with Lucky Dog - something about being able to maintain a vertical posture....

Posted by: CFShep on March 9, 2006 at 9:32 AM | PERMALINK

There is a statue of Samuel Gompers at about L and 13th or so, near the Morrison-Clark Hotel and a couple of blocks west of the new convention center. It's pretty much by itself, in an unkept little green area.

Posted by: David on March 9, 2006 at 10:03 AM | PERMALINK

by the way, has anyone used the new Circulator buses in Washington DC? How are they working out? What's the trip time and congestion like getting across town?

Posted by: David on March 9, 2006 at 10:04 AM | PERMALINK

It's pretty much by itself, in an unkept little green area.
Posted by: David

That's fairly sad.

Posted by: CFShep on March 9, 2006 at 10:08 AM | PERMALINK

There are no corporations in heaven; there are no unions in heaven......

add to that: there is no heaven

Posted by: Chris on March 9, 2006 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

New Orleans has a statue of Lee at Lee Circle with meaning attributed to his back being to the north. People will look for meanings where they are none.

The capitol's Architect of the Capitol doesn't touch on that.
http://www.aoc.gov/cc/grounds/art_arch/taft.cfm

No mention of it on the Senate's web page.
http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/minute/Taft_Bell_Tower.htm

I assume you are talking about the Francis Perkins building. If so it looks like the building may have been built in about 1980 which is after the carillon.
http://www.dol.gov/asp/programs/history/perkins.htm

Posted by: ET on March 9, 2006 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

There are no corporations in heaven; there are no unions in heaven......

add to that: there is no heaven
Posted by: Chris

Singalong:

"Well Harry was a Worker, one of Lenin's lads,
and he was foully murdered by those Counter-Revolutionary cads.

(Counter revolutionary cads!
Counter revolutionary cads!
He was foully murdered by those Counter- Revolutionary cads!)

Well, Harry went to Heaven, he reached the Gates with ease.
Said, "May I speak with Comrade God, I'm Harry Pollit, Please."

Posted by: CFShep on March 9, 2006 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

More to the point, the Taft Memorial also faces the Carpenters Union headquarters at 100 Constitution Ave., which may be old enough to have been there when the Memorial was built.

Posted by: Dave on March 9, 2006 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

ET: New Orleans has a statue of Lee at Lee Circle with meaning attributed to his back being to the north. People will look for meanings where they are none.

Or simply believe what mule-drawn carriage drivers tell 'em:

There was Norm from 'This Old House' (they were remodeling a double camelback over in Algiers) doing a standup in front of Old Hickory's equestrian statue.

"Here," he said, 'is the historic spot where Andrew Jackson fought the famous Battle of New Orleans."

This came, as you might imagine, as something of a shock to the people of Chalmette.

Posted by: CFShep on March 9, 2006 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

One of the many neat things about Seattle is that there are a lot of decaying leftists here, including a handful of surviving veterans of the Abraham Lincoln brigade, who fought as volunteers against the right-wingers in the Spanish Civil War. Also one can find ancient Ukrainians who fought for Hitler in W.W.II because Stalin had stolen their fields and slaughtered their families. The latter are among the few who miraculously escaped being forcibly repatrioted to the U.S.S.R. and death in Siberia.
At any rate, I like to provoke leftists with the assertion that, all in all, General Franco did Spain an immense service. While it is true that 50,000 died in the 1930's civil war, including the civilians bombed by German aircraft at Guernica, Franco steered Spain relatively untouched through the much greater tragedy of World War Two. Moreover, Spain's delicate neutrality apparently aided at least a small number of Jews in escaping the Holocaust.
John F. Kennedy's father was one of the right wing Catholics who fervently and unapologetically supported Franco. Without such support, Spain may well have endured a left wing coup and ended up like Hungary and Poland in the Cold War years. Spain under communism would have been like Yugoslavia under Tito, a boiling mess under a tight lid.
More relevantly for today, I think it is interesting that the three great European neutral of World War Two, Sweden, Spain, and Switzerland, all maintained their neutrality because of a fierce reputation for self defense. The Nazi armies could have subdued any of them with an invasion, but not in less than two years and not without enduring hundreds of thousands of casualties. The Spanish and the Swiss had difficult military terrain to aid their strong nationalist spirit, the Swedes had a small but strong military that had actually copied a number of the best German weapons.
My point is that being a centrist, either leaning to the left or right, is not for the weak. One needs a shrewd leader or two, plus independent military strength to pull it off.

Posted by: Michael L. Cook on March 9, 2006 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

CF Shep,

Yeah, Burke did write from Missoula when he taught at Montana U. He later taught at Whichita State, but has never written about Kansas - Scott Phillips, "The Ice Harvest" more than makes up for that - However, Burke has a short story coming out in the Atlantic, called "Jesus Out To Sea" about Katrina.

Cheers.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on March 9, 2006 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

Aw, Kevin. Maybe you weren't aware. Tour guides make up shit. In fact, they compete among each other for making up the best shit. The best shit gets passed around and eventually becomes true lore.

I know because I used to be a tour guide in the summers when I was in college.

Posted by: Libby Sosume on March 9, 2006 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks, Michael L. Cook. You've missed your true calling as a fantasy writer. Yeah, Spain would have ended up just like Hungary and Poland once the onward-rushing Red Army tanks crossed the Pyrenees and liberated Catalonia from the Nazis. Thank god Joe Kennedy and his friends saved the Spanish people from a fate worse than Franco.

Don't know what you are smoking at 11:03 a.m., but please send a few to everyone on this list...

Posted by: Friend of Labor on March 9, 2006 at 12:28 PM | PERMALINK

When the Invincible New Model Peoples Liberation Army finally takes the capital, 32 feet of blank granite will make a suitable site for imposing the justice of the people. No cigarette, mofo, no blindfold.

Posted by: Ken Bennett on March 9, 2006 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

When they put up the memorial to W (which they inevitably will, as a "gift of the people"), the bells on his carillon will surely make the cash-register "Cha-Ching" sound.

Posted by: Hemlock for Gadflies on March 9, 2006 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK
Aw, Kevin. Maybe you weren't aware. Tour guides make up shit. In fact, they compete among each other for making up the best shit. The best shit gets passed around and eventually becomes true lore.

I know because I used to be a tour guide in the summers when I was in college.

I don't understand something here, maybe you can help me out: isn't the word for the people who write things for newspapers and TV news shows "reporters", not "tour guides"?

Posted by: cmdicely on March 9, 2006 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

Scott Phillips, "The Ice Harvest" more than makes up for that - However, Burke has a short story coming out in the Atlantic, called "Jesus Out To Sea" about Katrina.

Cheers.
Posted by: thethirdPaul

Cheers,luv. Just rented "The Ice Harvest" and will surely pick up the new 'Atlantic'.

Many writers have, of course, written beautifully from places far from the setting of their stories.
Ex-pats and what not in particular.

I have read most of the Robicheaux series, though not the two most recent, but have passed them on to my mother who gets a kick out of all the (snarky) marginal notations/corrections. I think the earlier novels are by far better than the later ones where he was, essentially, phoning them in.

I

Posted by: CFShep on March 9, 2006 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

That's a statue of Taft? Boxy fellow with seven big rectangular eyes?

Creepy.

Posted by: pjcamp on March 9, 2006 at 9:40 PM | PERMALINK

I'd always heard that he was facing that way to keep an eye on the AFL-CIO's building... same as Will Rogers' statue on the second floor in the Capitol building facing the House chamber to keep an eye on them.

Posted by: Don on March 10, 2006 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly