Memorial Bridge’s Lion Statues in Netflix’s “House of Cards” Credits


On the Mall Adjacent the Memorial BridgeAs I busily digitize photos from my parents family photo album, I am studying each picture more closely and noticing surroundings and items that I haven’t consciously taken the time to observe before in all the many times and years of looking through them.  What I do notice is that our family of the 1950’s was a close knit one and traveled in and around the District of Columbia regularly.  Brownie cameras were the picture taking devices of the day.  Buy the camera, buy the film, buy the flashbulbs, take the film to your local pharmacy and get your pictures developed and returned in about one week.  We are so fortunate to have so many pictures in a time before the freedom and ease of cell phones and “selfies.”
The picture above, not the best of them by far, is of me, Joanne, about age 4, on the Mall adjacent to the Memorial Bridge in Arlington, VA. In the distant background appears the statue of Ulysses S. Grant, surrounded by a few statues of lions.  I never paid attention to my location in this picture, but my incessant need for clarification and my predisposition to research information I know little about led me to do a little research.  As it turns out, one of my favorite TV shows on Netflix, “The House of Cards,” which is scheduled to return for season 4 on March 4, includes images of this bridge in its openings credits.  An author, in 2014, known only to me as “Tom” of Ghostsofdc.org, wrote about the history of these statues, and it follows.  Geez, if I keep on noticing and researching just a little, I’ll be set for life writing about and sharing articles with you about my family’s history …

A Post Written by “Tom” of Ghostsofdc.org

Everyone is House of Cards crazy, and so are we. That’s why we wrote this post on Super Liquors, shown in the opening credits. We’re just waiting on the call for our appearance in season three. Beau Willimon and team, you can just email me at frank.underwood@ghostsofdc.org to get in touch.

Have you noticed the great time-lapse shots in the opening credits of House of Cards? There’s a great one of a lion looking up to the starry night sky. If you’re good with local D.C. sites, you know that it’s one of the four lions sitting at the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial by the Capitol Reflecting Pool.

Naturally, in true Ghosts of DC fashion, we’re going to dig up a little history on the lions to give you some great conversation topics for your next dinner party.

Lions on Memorial BridgeFirst,  a little about the Grant Memorial. The former president and Civil War general just missed out on getting a memorial bridge named for him, crossing the Potomac. We wrote two posts about that a while back, including some great old drawings of what it could have looked like. Well, he did get a memorial in the District, just not as glamorous as some other presidents. And now, Grant will be pleased to know that he’s been immortalized even further in the House of Cards opening credits, as his monument is featured prominently.

The memorial was authorized by Congress in 1901 with the total amount of $250,000, and 23 sculptors competed for the commission. The man who was selected was Henry Merwin Shrady, a self-taught sculptor, and interestingly, the son of the attending physician when Grant was suffering from throat cancer. Sadly, Shrady died just two weeks prior to the dedication in 1922.

Back to the lions … on April 28th, 1912 — 13 days after Titanic went to the bottom of the Atlantic — an article in The Washington Post stated that the lions had been successfully put in place after the memorial had been under construction for eight years. Eight years and only the lions were in place! Below is an excerpt from the piece.

According to the contract the whole is to be completed in the summer of 1913. Henry M. Shrady, the New York sculptor, and Edward Pierce Casey, an architect of that city, are the designers. The statue of Gen. Grant, which is to stand in the center of the 200-foot structure, has not yet been molded.

Ha! … 1913.

We dug up another interesting article from The Washington Post, printed on April 2nd, 1916 (four days later, the Chicago Cubs played their first game at Wrigley Field).

Four bronze lions, said to be exact copies of those on the Trafalgar Square Lord Nelson monument in London, couchant on flags presumed to be the American colors, form a group on the Grant monument in the Botanic Garden, which is attracting much comment at present because of the un-American idea the lions convey by reason of their position over the flags. Although the group has been in position for some time, this peculiar feature has apparently escaped notice until recently. The additions just being made attracted closer attention, however from the casual observer.

The fact that the lions are copies of the British lions on the Trafalgar Square monument in England and the sight of the flag stretched under their bodes have caused many tourists and other observers to wonder just what the motif of the group is intended to express.

To an artist perhaps the proud attitude of the crouching figures might convey an air of heroic protection, but to the ordinary mind this same proud appearance might mean haughty possession, and it is this latter impression, probably, which has caused the inquiries raised.

The Grant monument, when completed, will be a notable addition to those already adorning Washington’s parks and drives. Besides the main section, on which the lion group is situated, one section, composed of an artillery group, and other wing, now being completed, will be adorned by bronze cavalry group.

The flags, of course, were metaphors for Grant protecting the Union during the Civil War (er, I mean the War of Northern Aggression).

Here’s a terrific photo of one of the Trafalgar Square lions. It doesn’t really look like the Grant lions are exact replicas of the ones in London.

– click image for more –
Trafalgar Square lion
Trafalgar Square lion

One final article that we came across was a letter to the editor of The Washington Post, printed on April 28th, 1902 (on April 2nd, the first movie theater in the U.S. opened in Los Angeles, called the Electric Theatre). The author, Nat. Thomas, was not impressed by the selection of lions and suggested that Grant be represented by a different beast, possibly an elephant.

Of the quartet of lions surrounding the main group of Grant and his horse, two of them, “in the dejected havior of their visages” might serve a purpose as a study in therapeutics. They certainly look sick, and need healing. The artist relieves that monotony in his study of the other two, and puts them in something like an attitude of prayer. it is fair to suppose that their supplications are for the two that are sick.

But what is there in the nature of the lion that he should be chosen to embellish a sculptured memorial of U. S. Grant? Naturalists are about agreed that at most there is that overrated old feline of the desert and the veldt is a good-sized roar. To be sure, there are many men also whose roar is a pronounced feature of their make-up, but I never heard that characteristic was especially prominent in the man who never lost a battle. If the artist must employ a quadruped to typify the character of Grant, why not take the elephant, or make up a composite from several animals, wild and domestic, that are well known and might be mentioned.

Hmm, I do like elephants. The gentle giants of nature. But check out the awesome shots from the House of Cards opening credits below. The lion looks awesome and regal. No offense to all the elephants out there.

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