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Meridian Hill Park: Full of Fail.

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Meridian Hill Park, which is also known as Malcolm X Park, is at 16th Street NW and W Street NW in Washington, DC. It was built from 1914 to 1936. I had been told that it was created as part of a campaign to make Washington the host of the Prime Meridian. Many cities were vying for the privilege of hosting the arbitrary marker, and in the same way that a city will build a stadium to encourage the Olympic Committee, Washington organized Meridian Hill Park.

Here’s a shot that captures the… sloppiness that can be found there:

Though it’s a little down-at-the-heels, Meridian Hill Park still has an air of importance. Even if it’s an importance that’s mostly forgotten. For that reason, I think it’s a very romantic place.

Or so I thought. Wikipedia tells me that I’m wrong. Completely.

“Meridian” in “Meridian Hill Park” does not refer to the Prime Meridian. It actually refers to the “Washington Meridian“, which runs through the US Naval Observatory. Somehow, it cuts through the Observatory and through the park, 10 blocks east, where we find this plaque:

Which is hilarious. “The line is somewhere 50-something feet from where this plaque is. We can’t be bothered to put the plaque where the line really is.”

Washington Mean Time, then, is 5 hours, 8 minutes, and 12.04 seconds behind Greenwich Mean Time. This was “local time” for the city of Washington before American time zones were formally introduced in 1883.

Joke’s on us, though, since everyone realized in 1884 that a phenomena called “polar motion” made the relationship between Washington Mean Time and Greenwich Mean Time inaccurate. They didn’t get around to fixing that until 1912, but Washington Mean Time was used anyway, right up until 1950. At least, that’s how I read Wikipedia. I’m sure I’ve misread it, but I’m sure it was a mess.

As a final disappointment, Meridian Hill Park does not have its own maintenance apparatus. It’s administered by Rock Creek Park. Poor Meridian Hill Park.

All of this just makes Meridian Hill Park even more romantic than before. Instead of a monument to Quixotic dreams, it’s now an underdog, pratfalling its way through astronomical history.

Written by gunnar

January 5th, 2009 at 7:53 pm

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