Arlington’s best-built mermaid is seeking a safe harbor.
For seven years, passersby in my neck of Lee Highway-the conventionally proper 6200 block- have grown accustomed to the18-foot varnished tree carved into the form of a sailor’s topless fantasy figure, her long arms reaching to the sky.
Last week, an ad on Craigslist noted by the ARLnow blog revealed that her owner, Paul Jackson, a retired D.C. Fire Department captain, wants to sell his unique aesthetic statement.
The mermaid’s grandiose style and ample appendages-which face away from the highway – have won over the vast majority of local onlookers, Jackson says. “I know all my neighbors because of her.”
She attracts tour buses and has been featured in a national architectural magazine and tourist publications such as RoadsideAmerica.com. So he’ll be sad to see her go.
“Her roots are giving out, so it’s time to move her on,” Jackson told me, explaining that, despite his twice-yearly climb up a ladder to revarnish her, the 130-year-old dead white ash tree was invaded by carpenter ants. Three years ago, one of the mermaid’s arms fell to her side and was propped up (though her bustline, as Jackson puts it, “never sags”).
The Craigslist ad, which gives her the name of “D.G,” for damaged goods, reads: “Standing a prodigious 18′ tall she is a buxom mermaid, popular in her neighborhood and has also earned notoriety in newspapers, WETA, and worldwide publications such as Weird Virginia. She is now on sale for $3000 firm as her roots are weakening. Buyer is responsible for ‘slicing her off’ and transporting her to her new home. The price is $3000 or higher offer!”
The wooden siren first drew attention in a 2004 story by Washington Post reporter Laura Sessions Stepp (she also lives in our neighborhood). Jackson recalls how an unsatisfactory tree-care company had overtrimmed the treetop, leaving limbs dying. So rather than sue the company, Jackson said, he and his wife called carvers they’d heard of in Lancaster, Pa. But none would make the trip.
So he found Scott Dustin of Frederick, Md., just starting out with experience carving bears, eagles and totem poles. It was Jackson’s wife Nancy and their daughter who suggested a mermaid. Jackson then took over “the details” and ordered up a Dolly Parton shape “bigger than DDs, with a small waist.” Out of courtesy, he ran the plan by a neighbor whose view would be affected and who had a young daughter. All was a go.
Jackson’s one regret is the supernatural lady’s man-hands, unavoidable, he says, because more-feminine hands would too easily rot.
The Craigslist notice has drawn nibbles, one from the entrepreneur for a coming seafood restaurant in Clarendon, which is considering transporting her to a courtyard to protect her and accommodate public viewers. “It would be great because I could visit her,” Jackson says. “After all, she’s kind of special.”
An Arlington code enforcement official, when the mermaid first appeared, researched her legality and concluded the sculpture was art. That view is now accepted by neighbors who at first were turned off. Says Tom Wolfe, who lives two doors down, “Those in the neighborhood more or less got used to it. But now I’ll no longer be able to say, when guiding friends to our homes, `Just look for the mermaid.’ “
Charlie Clark may be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org