“Me?” Gemmy asked, looking down at the tiny woman, still swathed in coats on this first warm day of the year.
“I seen you before,” the woman answered, pulling her tam-o-shanter down all the way to her greying eyebrows. “Seen you in the Zodiac Fountain.”
Now you, my listeners stretching your legs and arms as the sun creeps across the old green carpet, you will perhaps not be surprised at all to learn that, just yesterday, Gemmy’s boss had plopped a set of files on Gemmy’s desk, nor will it stop you from grabbing another mug of nettle tea when I tell you that the files were all labeled, well, of course, you already know. They were labeled: “Zodiac Fountain — Constructed 1952 — Located: Corner of Penn/Constitution/6th N.W. — Bronze, Granite, Quartz.”
“We maintain it,” Gemmy’s boss had explained. “Haven’t update our files on it for some time. You can do it in between your tech writing. Let me know if you’ve got questions.”
Gemmy had shoved the files to the back of her desk; she had three projects to finish ahead of it and updating Department of Interior files was not her favorite part of this job.
“You saw me there?” Gemmy asked, confused. “I’ve never been there.”
“No, you ain’t. Not yet. But I saw you there. You will be. You’ll be there when the sun hits that carving of a ram. You going to eat those?” the woman said, eying Gemmy’s bag of spring rolls.
“Are you hungry?” Gemmy asked, and immediately regretted the question. Of course the woman was hungry or she wouldn’t be asking a stranger for food. Gemmy remembered the apple and sandwich sitting back in the fridge at her office. “Here,” she said, handing the old woman the bag, “please take these.”
“Thanks,” said the old woman, heading for a nearby bench. “Don’t forget what I said. Zodiac Fountain. It’s just outside the building with the pictures and the building with the statue of the man and the horse. Lotta those blue-winged pigeons there.”
“OK, I won’t forget,” Gemmy said, mostly to be polite. She really had been looking forward to those spring rolls. The scent lingered for a moment after the woman walked off with the bag: cilantro, lemongrass, and ginger. When Gemmy looked back, she saw the old woman feeding the spring rolls to a flock of city pigeons. Mostly grey-winged, Gemmy noticed, ruefully.
“I’m an idiot,” Gemmy thought, as she turned West on Constitution and began to walk back to her office. “Spending money I don’t have to give spring rolls to a crazy old bag lady who feeds them to the birds.” Still, something about the way that the wind blew the puffy clouds across the sunny sky wouldn’t let Gemmy feel too bad. She walked back to Interior, took her apple and her tahini sandwich to her desk, and, in spite of the writing project still up on her computer, reached for the Zodiac Fountain files.
“When the sun hits the carving of a ram,” Gemmy muttered, slipping slices of cucumber in between the lettuce that, just this morning, she’d placed inside slices of bread, spread with tahini. “She must have meant Aires — to the extent she meant anything at all. What on Earth is a Zodiac Fountain doing in D.C.? And why Aries?”
The scent of old paper wafted up as Gemmy opened the first file. Some now-dead government worker, most likely a GI back from World War II, had typed up the first records on the Zodiac Fountain. Gemmy never opened one of these files without feeling a small tap on her shoulder by Kleio, the Muse of History, and Gemmy always felt her own part in a chain that stretched back to before she was born and that would, Goddess willing, stretch forward to a time when her bones were nutrition for a tree. Chewing her apple, Gemmy began to read a small piece of the history of what was slowly becoming “her” city.
“Ordered by Congress in 1947, and more properly known as the Andrew W. Mellon Memorial Water Fountain, the Zodiac Fountain was completed in 1952. The fountain is maintained by the Department of the Interior. Located across from the National Gallery of Art, which houses Mr. Mellon’s art collection, and near the Federal Trade Commission, with its famous 1939 Michael Lantz sculpture known as Man Controlling Trade, the Zodiac Fountain is made up of three bronze bowls, all inside a granite outer basin. The fountain is decorated in zodiac signs which sit in what are purported to be their correct astrological position vis-a-vis the rays of the sun. It is surrounded by a granite walkway and a granite bench.
The fountain sits on the former site of the St. James hotel. Funds for the construction of the fountain were donated by friends of Mr. Mellon, former Secretary of the Treasury and ambassador to Great Britain. The fountain’s design is patterned after a fountain in Genoa, Italy. While excavating for the fountain, a large underground tunnel was discovered. The origin and purpose of the tunnel is unknown, but it had to be filled with concrete in order for the land to properly support the weight of the fountain. Two concentric rings of 30-ton concrete piles had to be driven down 30–40 ft. into the ground to ensure that the ground was level.
The Aries zodiac symbol faces directly east, with the Libra symbol facing west and the Virgo symbol arranged along Pennsylvania Avenue, leading some to believe that Masonic influences were involve in the design of the fountain. On the Vernal Equinox, the sun hits the sculpture of Aries directly; Aries then faces the rising sun a month later.”
“Hmmm,” thought Gemmy, as she walked to the office compost bin to deposit her apple core, “‘on the Vernal Equinox, the sun hits the sculpture of Aires directly.’ And Eostara’s just next week. I guess that I will have to make an ‘on-site visit’ in order to update these files.
Picture found here.
Some information concerning the Zodiac Fountain borrowed from here.