While not exactly a national monument, the north entrance to the Dupont Circle Metro stop in downtown Washington, D.C., is a pretty impressive edifice. A large circular granite wall is inscribed with a portion of Walt Whitman’s poem “The Wound-Dresser,” which you can ponder as you slowly descend the 188-foot escalator that takes you to the train underground. The escalators are encased on both sides by sloping concrete blocks with planters interspersed. Until recently, those 176 planters were just boxes filled with dirt. But then a local resident took it upon himself to utilize the flower boxes as had been intended, and surreptitiously filled them with more than 1,000 morning glories, cardinal flowers, and cypress vines. “The plants would have bloomed from August to October in a patriotic display of red, white and blue,” according to the Washington Post. Local residents were delighted by what had happened and the anonymous citizen responsible was dubbed the “Phantom Planter.”
Eventually the Phantom Planter was unmasked as professional gardener Henry Docter. Rather than being grateful for Docter’s thoughtful efforts at civic beautification, the notoriously corrupt and inefficient Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority immediately threatened Docter with “arrest, fines and imprisonment” for his reckless act of gardening without a permit. However, the public outcry in support of Docter was so strong that Metro authorities promised to meet with community leaders and “move forward with their wishes, as long as they are reasonable, sustainable and safe.”
Anyone familiar with unaccountable mass transit bureaucracies can guess where this is heading. In fact, Metro scheduled no meetings with community leaders and last week sent workmen to rip the flowers out of all 176 boxes without notifying anyone. (The constant breakdown of Metro’s escalators, by the way, is one of D.C.’s most infuriating local quirks, and it took The Scrapbook an hour and a half to get home from work after a Metro train broke down one day last week, so it’s not as if Metro doesn’t have more important things to work on.) There has been considerable outrage and negative local press since Metro undid the work of the Phantom Planter, but it’s not like Washington’s local authorities have ever shied away from being openly scornful of their constituents.