Lost Washingtoniana: The Garden of Almanalogy and Astrometry

February 2009

All that's left of the Garden  of Almanalogy and Astrometry
All that's left of the Garden of Almanalogy and Astrometry. Photograph by Julie Mangin, February 2009

All that’s left of the Garden of Almanalogy and Astrometry is a two and a half foot concrete post with tiny mosaic tiles that trace the numbers 7, 13, 28 91. In its day, the Garden, located in Northwest Washington, D.C., featured concrete sculptures and wooden placards demonstrating the concepts of a 13-month calendar that the Garden’s creator proposed. Thirty-three years after Walter Rothe’s death, the Garden of Almanalogy and Astrometry (also known as The Calendarium) has nearly faded from local memory.

However, the current resident of the house on MacArthur Boulevard still gets the occasional question about the house which she bought ten years ago from an owner who told her nothing of its history. After she moved in, passers-by began telling her what they remembered of the “Calendar House,” as it was known. Still, no one had ever told her of the name of the man who was obsessed with calendar reform until I emailed her recently with my curious request. I had found a reference to the Garden in an old guide book called Amazing America by Jane and Michael Stern, and wondered if there was anything left of it. Taran Z kindly gave me a tour of the house, which is now home to her photographic studio (http://www.taranzstudio.com/). We determined that the numbers on the post related to Rothe’s proposed calendar: 7 days in a week, 13 months in a year, 28 days in a month, and 91 days in a quarter.

In 1947, confounded by the difficulty of knowing what day of the week a particular date would be, Rothe decided to fix the problem himself. He came up with a 13-month calendar in which each month had exactly 28 days. The 13th month would fall in the middle of summer, and be called “Solarius.” Sundays would always be either the 7th, 14th, 21st, or 28th of the month. But that only added up to 364 days. No problem…Rothe added a 365th day, not part of any week or month, that would begin each New Year: Earth Orbit Day. Every four years, another “extra” day would be added to the calendar called “Quadrennial Day.” Another extra day would need to be added every 3,323 years. But other than that, he dubbed his calendar “perfect.”

In 1954, Rothe’s “Universal Calendar” was one of several proposals before the United Nations in its search for a common calendar for all nations to use. The debate was postponed at the request of the United States, representing the views of religious groups. Christians, Jews, and other religions that observe the Sabbath every seven days, objected to any calendar that would disrupt the cycle, which the undated 365th day on Rothe’s calendar most certainly did. The discussion at the U.N. was never resumed. Rothe never lost faith in his calendar, and continued to promote it until his death in 1976. He appeared on “To Tell the Truth” in 1964, and it is rumored that Einstein visited him at his home.

Rather than his convoluted calendar theory, it is the Garden that interests me most. What must his neighbors have thought when he erected large concrete structures in his side yard with the numbers 7, 14, 21, and 28 and the slogan “Sundays Forever”? Did they object to the 8-foot arch which honored Orbit Day, inscribed with the message “Climax Day after orbiting 687,803,131 miles in 365 days at 66,000 m.p.h.”? It would seem not. I found several newspaper articles between 1955 and 1981 for which Rothe was interviewed, and none of them mentioned any conflict with the neighbors over his elaborate calendarium.

All that's left of the Garden  of Almanalogy and Astrometry
All that's left of the Garden of Almanalogy and Astrometry . Photograph by Julie Mangin, February 2009

The Garden was actually located in two places over its approximately fifteen-year history. It was created at Rothe’s home on MacArthur Boulevard in the Palisades area of Northwest Washington. Later, he moved about a mile away to the Spring Valley neighborhood near American University, taking his sculptures with him. A recent correspondence with the owner of the second property indicates that by 1989 (when he acquired it), there was nothing left of the Garden of Almanalogy. It’s a pity that no one saw its value as a folk environment, and tried to save it. I’m sure the American Visionary Art Museum would have loved to have had the sculptures, if it had existed back then.

A couple of interesting side notes to this story. One of the articles about the Garden was written in 1966 by ace Washington reporter Carl Bernstein. He moved on to more serious journalism after that, I’ve heard. Another article was written in 1972 by Washington Post writer, Henry Allen. It is this article that amuses me the most. If you read between the lines, Walter Rothe comes across a quite a piece of work. Speaking of the MacArthur Boulevard house, Allen writes: “He has lived there for 30 years, since his German-born wife returned to Germany at the beginning of World War II.” Maybe I’m being unfair, but I have to wonder how bad things were between them if she wanted to return to Germany during the height of Nazi power. Later in the article, it is mentioned that “After he gets the world to adopt one calendar, he’d like to devise one religion for everyone. ‘I don’t see why it can’t be done,’ he says.”

References:

Bernstein, Carl. “Universal Calendar Lets Time Fly in Formation.” Washington Post, Times Herald, October 30, 1966.

Allen, Henry. “Hail Solarius!” Washington Post, Times Herald, May 12, 1972.

Stern, Jane and Michael. Amazing America. New York : Random House, c1978.