Virginia is a state that has a lot of historical markers. One can drive through an otherwise lonely crossroads in Hanover County, and spot an ancient, rusting sign describing it as the place where a company in Grant’s army skirmished during the march to Petersburg. Or another mentioning an event connected to Washington’s confrontation of the British at Yorktown.
Every so often, a marker goes up to commemorate history of a more recent vintage. This month, in the Rosslyn neighborhood of Arlington County, one such was placed on the sidewalk in front of a thoroughly unprepossessing parking garage. What separates this garage from dozens of others in Rosslyn is that it was the place where Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, in 1972 and 1973, had a series of meetings with an informant dubbed “Deep Throat” who, after decades of speculation, was identified in 2005 in the pages of Vanity Fair as former FBI associate director Mark Felt.
After the Vanity Fair article was published and Woodward somewhat reluctantly confirmed that Felt was DT (as we olde Watergate buffs customarily abbreviate the title), someone took the trouble to go to level D of the garage, where space 32, according to Woodward, marks the spot which Felt designated for their conversations, and tape an article about DT’s unveiling to a nearby wall. For years, that was the only on-site designation of the garage’s place in American history.
But in 2008, the Historic Preservation Office of Arlington County decided to put up a marker outside the building. An inscription was drafted, and it was decided that the marker would be installed when the time was right for a ceremony. But then the recession came in and, possibly, a ceremony was thought of as a little too showy, and too likely to attract attention to the cost of the installation. Perhaps the fortieth anniversary of the Watergate break-in next year would have been a suitable time to put up the sign and round up the press for pictures, but instead, as reported in USA Today, it simply was installed without fanfare last week, its text concluding with the misstatement that it was “erected” (rather than approved) “in 2008.”
This is not the only error in the inscription. It says that “Felt provided Woodward information that exposed the Nixon administration’s obstruction of the FBI investigation [of Watergate].” But as Professor W. Joseph Campbell of American University points out in his Media Myth Alert site, Woodward’s accounts of his conversations with DT in his and Post colleague Carl Bernstein’s All The President’s Men show that DT was hardly describing the FBI’s conflicts with the White House in detail. (The informant was also not revealing “state secrets” to Woodward, as an article at DC radio station WTOP’s site about the marker claimed.) Instead, DT was confirming or denying questions Woodward posed to him about the involvement of White House and Committee To Re-Elect The President staffers in Watergate, or sometimes offering murky warnings and vague hints about where Woodward and Bernstein should look for answers.
And so it is that tourists visiting DC with a special interest in the era of wide ties and shag rugs have a new object to pose next to and photograph. But this, of course, makes one wonder when some other markers will go up. Is one being prepared for the window ledge in Bob Woodward’s old apartment building where he would leave a potted plant as a signal to DT that he sought a meeting? Or for the park bench where Woodward told Post executive editor Ben Bradlee the identity of DT, not long after President Nixon’s resignation? (That event, incidentally, contradicts the statement on the marker that “Woodward’s promise not to reveal his source was kept until Felt announced his role as Deep Throat in 2005.”) June 2012 would be as good a time as any to unveil them.