Kurt's Historic Sites

Clover and Henry Adams

Henry Adams

Interment LocationVisited 
Washington, D.C.August 6, 2015 

Photographed August 6, 2015.

Known unofficially as Grief, the Adams Memorial at Washington’s Rock Creek Cemetery was created by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The acclaimed artist was hired by historian Henry Adams to commemorate his late wife, photographer Marian “Clover” Adams. In December 1885, Mrs. Adams had committed suicide by ingesting the very chemicals she used to develop pictures. An exhibition label from the Smithsonian American Art Museum explains that Henry Adams wished for Saint-Gaudens’s commission to “express the Buddhist idea of nirvana, a state of being beyond joy and sorrow. In Adams’s circle of artists and writers, the old Christian certainties seemed inadequate after the violence of the Civil War, the industrialization of America, and Darwin’s theories of evolution. Saint-Gaudens’s ambiguous figure reflects the search for new insights into the mysteries of life and death. The shrouded being is neither male nor female, neither triumphant nor downcast. Its message is inscrutable. Clover’s gravesite in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C. quickly became a tourist attraction, but Adams resisted all attempts to sentimentalize the memorial as a symbol of grief.”

Fast Facts

Born: February 16, 1838 in Boston, Massachusetts

Spouse: Marian Hooper “Clover” Adams (m. 1872-1885)

Pulitzer Prize for Biography: The Education of Henry Adams (1919)

Died: March 27, 1918 in Washington, D.C.

Age: 80

Interment: Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

"Your letter of Novr. 22 reached me here two days ago. As I returned from my father's funeral. By the way, please overlook any slight signs of flagging gaiety you may notice in my style. During the last eighteen months I have not had the good luck to attend my own funeral, but with that exception I have buried pretty nearly everything I lived for; and at times I have had to make some effort in order to be as gay as one would wish."
- Henry Adams
December 5, 1886, in a letter to his friend, Anne Palmer Fell
Photographed November 29, 2022.

Freedom Plaza, situated in the northwest quadrant of Washington, D.C., is decorated with stones engraved with statements made about the city by historical figures. One quotation originates from an 1877 letter written by Henry Adams to his friend, lawyer Charles Milnes Gaskell. Adams wrote of the capital, “One of these days this will be a very great city if nothing happens to it.”

Sources Consulted and Further Reading

Smithsonian American Art Museum. “Adams Memorial.” Accessed September 10, 2022. https://americanart.si.edu/artwork/adams-memorial-21528.

Winner, Viola Hopkins. “Henry Adams and Lafayette Square, 1877-1885.” Virginia Quarterly Review 62, no. 3 (1986). https://www.vqronline.org/essay/henry-adams-and-lafayette-square-1877-1885.

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