The armillary sphere in Montrose Park on R Street NW in Georgetown was vandalized earlier this summer, harkening back to 50 years ago. While the sphere — a model of the heavens with roots in ancient Greece and China — was completely removed in May of 1969, vandals chose to leave it behind this time around.
According to Georgina Owens, president of Friends of Montrose Park, vandals used a large branch to twist the sphere off its base, which ended up damaging both the sphere and the base. The National Park Service conservation lab has inspected the sphere and is currently working on proposals for its restoration.
Fifty years ago, after the sphere was removed from its location, it ended up at the door of the Washington Evening Star, which ceased publication nearly 40 years ago. In an article from the Star dated May 14, 1969, the theft coincided with “a noticeable rise in hippies at the fashionable park, which usually brings thoughts of nannies and small children.” The park was the former stomping grounds of a young Caroline Kennedy.
The sphere was installed in 1956 by the Georgetown Garden Club as a memorial to Sarah Louisa Rittenhouse, who lobbied Congress from 1904 to 1911 to buy the Montrose estate for a public park. After her death in 1942, the Georgetown Garden Club erected the sphere in Rittenhouse’s memory.
Owens remarked that perhaps there is a cosmic astrophysical force that inspires destruction of armillary spheres every 50 years.