In September, the National Park Service discovered that Joan of Arc’s sword was missing from her statue in Meridian Hill Park—again. At first blush, making off with the sword looks like quite a feat: Perched on a six-foot-tall block of granite, the equestrian figure stands an additional nine feet. The sword itself is almost five feet long and weighs 30 pounds. But where there’s a will, we have learned, there has repeatedly been a way.
Joan of Arc—the only equestrian statue of a woman in DC—is unveiled. A gift from the “Ladies of France in Exile in New York,” it’s a copy of one in Paris.
Joan’s sword goes missing at the end of the year. On January 3, 1933, the Washington Star reports that it was found in a hedge, “bent but unbroken.” The paper speculates that the sword might have been loosened when the statue was moved earlier in 1932. There are plans to replace it “soon.”
Gone again: “When I visited the park shortly after the 1968 riots that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,I was saddened to see that Joan’s sword had been broken off the statue and removed,” Robert M. Rosenblatt recalls years later in the Washington Post.
The National Park Service removes the statue for repairs, at a cost of $2,330. “She was in perfect shape when we put her back up in 1978,” NPS superintendent Burnice Kearney later says.
“It would be no exaggeration to say I’ve put eight or ten swords up there,” William “Crank” Cranford, the metalworker charged with fabricating replacement blades, tells the Star. “You could do it a thousand times and it’d still be gone the next day.” The same year, Kearney says: “The sword’s been broken off maybe a dozen times. We put a new sword up, and every time it was there less than a month.”
The sword is missing.
In his Post opinion piece, Rosenblatt says: “I’ve always hoped the statue would be repaired, but after 42 years, I’m beginning to doubt that will happen.” He’s referring to when he first saw the sword missing, in 1968. Even the Park Service can’t precisely say if or when the sword was replaced or stolen during these years.
A full restoration of the statue takes place. The foundation is cleaned, and metalwork returns the bronze to its original dark color. The entire process, including installing a new sword, costs $43,039.
The sword is stolen in mid-September, broken off at the same weak point where the blade and guard meet the hilt. Someone replaces it with a foam weapon. Scott Kreilick, a Pennsylvania conservator who did the last restoration, still has the wooden model and is hoping to replace the sword this time, too. If it’s stolen in the future, Kreilick says he’d be open to replacing it: “I like working in the park, but I don’t hope it will happen again.”
Graphic by Manyun Zou.
This article appears in the December 2016 issue of Washingtonian.