Geek Trivia

Which Iconic Sci-Fi Character Is Immortalized As A Grotesque On The Washington National Cathedral?

Darth Vader
Doctor Who
One Of Tesla's Early Experiments Caused New Yorkers To Panic Over What?
Photo depicting the Darth Vader grotesque.
Washington National Cathedral

Answer: Darth Vader

In the 1980s, the Washington National Cathedral was undergoing renovations and expansion. As part of the renovation process, the Cathedral staff hosted a sculpture contest for children wherein the drawings of the winners would be crafted in stone and serve as grotesques on the then under-construction West Towers.

Among the winning drawings was one by Christopher Rader, who had submitted a drawing of the sci-fi villain Darth Vader. His drawing was first rendered in wood by Jay Hall Carpenter, then recreated in stone by Patrick J. Plunkett before finally coming to rest high up on the newly completed northwest tower of the Cathedral.

If you’re in Washington, D.C. and looking for Lord Vader, be sure to head to the dark side. Literally, that is, as Vader’s likeness was purposely placed on the darkest side of the building in a subtle homage to his iconic role.

You might be wondering why we’ve referred to the sculpture as a grotesque. Although most people call the sculptures of heads, animals, and mythical creatures that adorn old buildings “gargoyles,” most of them are actually “grotesques.” A gargoyle is a sculpture that serves as a termination point for roof drainage (their open mouths are downspouts that help direct rainwater away from the building) whereas a grotesque is simply a decorative creature. By that measure, all gargoyles are also grotesques, but not all grotesques are gargoyles.