In 1921 The State of Virginia Sent London A Statue of George Washington And?
Answer: A Ton of Dirt
In the late 18th century, French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon sculpted what is considered to be the most accurate sculpture of George Washington ever crafted (thanks to careful measurements and a mold cast from Washington’s own face). It was commissioned by the Virginia General Assembly and, to this day, sits in the rotunda of the Virginia State Capitol building in Richmond, Virginia.
The sculpture of Washington proved to be so accurate and so well loved by the public that it has been copied extensively. At first it was copied to protect it (fears of damage during the Civil War lead the state assembly to authorize a mold and subsequent bronze castings), but later it was copied to be shared with other public institutions, universities, and other countries.
Under this authorization, a bronze casting of the statue was sent to the National Gallery in London in 1921 in celebration of the 300th anniversary of the founding of Virginia. In addition to sending the statue, the State of Virginia allegedly sent several additional crates packed tight with a ton of Virginia soil with the instructions that the soil be compacted and used as the base for the statue. Why soil from the former British colonial state? Washington had vowed to never set foot upon English soil again and, in a nod to his wishes, the Virginian government sent some of their soil to ensure he never would.
While we’d like to think the British would, however light-heartedly, honor the request, and even if they did, Washington would eventually find himself back on British soil. The statue was moved from its original location to another part of the Gallery’s courtyard in 1948.
Image courtesy of the National Gallery.