This summer when I was trying to figure out what to put on the cover of my book, one thing I thought about was – What is the quintessential image of Alexandria?
I started by looking at books and their covers.
One of my favorites is John Stobart’s “Alexandria,” as seen on the cover of “A Seaport Saga.” One sees this majestic tallship heading out of port, with colonial citizens standing on the dock and waving goodbye.
Ted Pulliam’s “Historic Alexandria” is equally effective with a colonial seaport scene beautifully portrayed.
Simple, but effective is a composite drawing of the harbor in bygone days by Nicholas J. Ackermann (“Pen Portraits of Alexandria” by T. Michael Miller).
A composite drawing by Elizabeth Luallen (AAM), found on the first pages of “Walk and Bike the Alexandria Heritage Trail,” captures a sense of the earliest days of the seaport town when ten-foot high cliffs looked down to the waterfront.
One recent illustrated book shows a black and white photo familiar to history buffs. “View from Pioneer Mill,” looks at a bustling waterfront in mid-19th century.
William Seale’s popular guide to the city captures a modern day look of the southern half of Old Town, a photograph apparently taken from the Wilson Bridge and one that showcases both old and new buildings and homes.
Color lithographs have given us cogent looks at Old Town, including printer Charles Magnus’s classic, “Bird’s-eye View of Alexandria” (1863), as well as “A View of Alexandria, Virginia in 1845” by E. Sasche & Company, Baltimore, Maryland.
The former shows up on at least two books - "Alexandria Goes to War" by George G. Kundahl and "Revolutionary Economies: What Archaeology Reveals about the Birth of American Capitalism" by Thomas W. Cuddy.
Some other books use Market Square and Town Hall to evoke a wholesome, community sense.
Photographs and illustrations of historic houses and museums are an essential part of the repertoire. In this regard, the historic district’s two temples – The Lyceum and the Athenaeum – are popular, as well as the beloved Gadsby’s Museum. Watercolor artists also show affection for historic homes, usually a row of Federal or Georgian style.
In trying to capture the essence of Alexandria, some books have used a multi-image approach. “Images of America – Alexandria,” takes a people approach. The cover shows a South Washington Street home used as a hospital during the Civil War, with a strikingly diverse group of citizens posing out front.
On the web, a new tourism promo by the city uses the cobblestones of Prince Street and a sharp-dressed couple to accent romance (“Get a room,” someone quipped). Alexandria’s official site features an array of images with an emphasis on waterfront parks. The City’s official seal and banners use a tall ship.
A google seach reveals a variety of approaches, including aerials views using King Street as the spine, and some photographs widen the lens to show Alexandria’s proximity to Washington, D.C.
Maps can make a point too, and, of course, anytime you can use an image of our first President, well, you can never go wrong there.
I never did decide which one bested the rest, although Magnus's "Bird's Eye" has a lot going for it.
Do you have a favorite?