A pair of marble urns is up for auction.
Usually, that wouldn’t be a big deal. But the history of this particular pair of urns, and how they came to be on the block is becoming an issue.
The urns once graced the amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery. They were there at the inception, designed by the same architectural firm that did such prominent Washington buildings as the Russell Senate Office Building and the Cannon House office building. During a 90’s renovation of the amphitheater, the urns were replaced, and there begins the odyssey that led them to the auction block.
What’s unclear is whether the contractor who did the renovations was supposed to dispose of the urns or whether they could legally be sold. After several changes of possession, they ended up in an Eastern Shore antiques shop.
The owner of that shop is selling off his inventory. “They contracted with us to sell 800 architectural pieces as well as antiques from their inventory,” said Elisabeth Wainstein, owner of The Potomack Company, in Alexandria.
It sounds clear-cut but, the regional director of the national trust for historic preservation in Washington says the transaction “deeply concerns us.”
Rob Nieweg, who is also regional attorney for the Trust says the question of whether the urns should’ve been disposed of, or whether they can legally be sold, can only be answered by looking at the contract associated with the renovation work at the cemetery. But he also says that the urns were “replaced with just replicas,” adding that “Americans really don’t accept inauthentic replicas, we should have the real historic monument available to us.”
To that end, he believes the urns should’ve been restored and returned to the amphitheater, or at least placed in a museum. For him, it gets at the larger issue of the administration of one of the nation’s most hallowed resources, and the Army’s stewardship of Arlington National Cemetery.
“Arlington National Cemetery should be documented and it should on the national list of what’s worthy of preservation and that’s the National Register of Historic Places,” said Nieweg.
He also says that the auction of the urns should be stopped until the matter of their ownership is resolved.
It has been resolved, as far as The Potomack Company is concerned. The auction of the urns and other items is on schedule for next weekend.
“We’d certainly like to see someone step forward," said company owner Elisabeth Wainstein, "and buy them and perhaps give them back to a museum.”