Joseph Marthon Memorial Mainmast – Arlington, Virginia - Atlas Obscura

Joseph Marthon Memorial Mainmast

The naval commander’s proudest moment in battle is memorialized in this unique tomb at Arlington Cemetery.  


When most people think of Arlington National Cemetery, they imagine picturesque rows of identical government-issue headstones. Anything could be further from the case in the quirky back area around Meigs Avenue, where one can find all manner of unique statuary.

One of the best belongs to U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Joseph Marthon. A stout stone mainmast sits atop an engraved image of the the dearly deceased standing guard in the crow’s nest behind a menacing swivel cannon.

The picture captures Marthon’s role on August 5th, 1864, during the Battle of Mobile Bay. The 25-year-old commanded the crow’s nest gunnery on board Admiral David Farragut’s flagship, the U.S.S. Hartford. Marthon’s later fixation on the masthead likely arose because of the story that Admiral Farragut was lashed to this very timber when he shouted his famous order to “damn the torpedoes.”

Marthon penned a letter to Admiral Farragut’s son Loyall in 1880 that verified the widely told “torpedo” legend and wrote himself into history. It was this brush with fame that Marthon intended to highlight as his proudest moment in Naval service.

Amusingly, he seems to have borrowed the gravestone idea from none other than Admiral Farragut himself, who went full speed ahead and got the first Memorial Mainmast when he died in 1870. Neither memorial, tragically, actually has a statue lashed to the mast.

Know Before You Go

Lat/Long are approximate. Look for Section 1, Site 103-A on one of the free National Park Service maps.

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