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Posted by: steve benson ( )
Date: May 30, 2013 04:18PM

When I lived in McClean, Virginia, back in 1979-80 where I worked on Capitol Hill, I would often drive the Washington D.C. Beltway, which skirted the Mormon D.C., temple.

At the Kensington, Maryland, exit, emblazoned on a railroad overpass in capital letters (with the D.C. temple looming in the background above the treeline) were the words:


Here are some accounts of this iconic piece of grafitti, which has persisted as a Mormon PR problem over the years (photos and news articles included):

"'Washington’s Surrender Message'

"The 'Washington Post' columnist John Kelly recently wrote about the mystery of who painted 'Surrender Dorothy' on a railroad bridge near the region’s palatial Mormon temple. The photo above shows how the message appeared from the 1970s to 2007; presently only the word 'Surrender' survives, in what looks like a stencil rather than hand-lettering.

"That graffito’s a comment on the temple’s architecture, which evidently reminds many people of the skyline of the Emerald City in the MGM Wizard of Oz. I don’t see a strong resemblance, but the spires are definitely striking and otherwordly.

Kelly couldn’t identify the artist in paint, but he did find a story of the first 'Surrender Dorothy' message near the same spot, with letters made of rolled-up newspapers threaded through a chain-link fence:

""In the fall of 1974, the senior class of Holy Child, a Catholic girls school in Potomac, visited the Mormon Temple before its dedication. To some, the building resembled the Emerald City. 'The Wizard of Oz' might have been on their minds. It was going to be the school play that year. Almost immediately, a plan was hatched.

“'We thought it was brilliant,' remembered Chris Brennan, Holy Child Class of 1975, 'but being good girls we didn’t want to deface any property, so we came up with the idea to use wadded newspapers to spell out the letters.' . . .

"'Some time after midnight, the girls headed to the bridge. There were 13 girls in all. Each was responsible for at least one letter. The girls who finished the first letters then hurried to do the last letters. . . .

"'The next day, "Montgomery Journal" photographer Hoke Kempley happened upon the girls’ creation. On Oct. 31, 1974, his picture of it ran in the "Journal" under the headline, “Wicked Witch of the Beltway?'

"The painted version evidently went up soon after the newspapers were taken down. Which suggests that a “Surrender Dorothy” message has been gracing the Beltway for more than half the time since that Wizard of Oz appeared in cinemas in 1939."

("OZ and Ends," 9 August 2011, at:

Here's an article by "Washington Post" reporter Kelly:

Drivers on the Beltway can see the spires of the Mormon Temple. (UPI etm/L.Mark/ )

"As I traveled on the Beltway in the early ’70s near the Mormon Temple in Kensington, I was always amused by one re-occurring sight. On an overpass just as the temple comes into view, someone would always spray paints in big letters 'Surrender Dorothy.' The line was from 'The Wizard of Oz,' and I’m fairly sure it reflected the graffiti artist’s impression that the temple was reminiscent of the spires that Dorothy and company saw as they approached the Emerald City and their subsequent fear when the witch wrote the phrase in the sky. While I recognize that it was illegal to do that, I marveled at the writer’s ability to write it so boldly as to be seen from the highway. I’ve often wondered if anyone knew the story behind it or knew who the person was."

(contributerd by Christine Mulligan, Germantown)

"'Surrender Dorothy’ painted on a Beltway overpass — What’s the Story?, by John Kelly, "Washington Post," 25 June 2011, at:

Even the Mormon Church-owned "Deseret News" couldn't ignore the story:

"WASHINGTON D.C. — Who did it?

"Who played the part of the Wicked Witch of the West and was the first in the early 1970s to spray paint the message 'Surrender Dorothy' on an overpass on the Washington D.C. Beltway right where the Mormon Temple comes into view? The mystery is now, at least partially, solved.

"Christine Mulligan of Germantown, Md., wrote to 'Answer Man' John Kelly at the 'Washington Post' last month to see if he knew the orgin of the painted prank.

"He didn't — at first.

"'That graffito (singular of graffiti) was on a CSX railway bridge, meaning the perpetrator(s) risked not just falling onto the Beltway below but being flattened by a passing freight train,' he wrote. 'The temple was dedicated in November 1974, and certainly by the early 1980s "Surrender Dorothy" was a common sight for Beltway drivers — and an irritant for state highway workers, who would periodically be brought in to remove what was seen as a distraction to drivers.'

"For more than three decades that 'distraction' has been painted over by highway crews — only to reappear.

"The article had a nice 1986 photo of the tagged bridge — the tall spires of the Washington D.C. Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rising above the graffiti.

"So the 'Answer Man' asked for help from his readers to solve the mystery.

"The phrase comes from the movie 'The Wizard of Oz' where the Wicked Witch leaves a sky-written smoke message to the residents of the Emerald City to turn over the witch's enemy, their ruby-shoe-wearing visitor from Kansas: 'Surrender Dorothy.'

"'Ehpien' on explained the context of the graffiti this way:

"'As you go down this particular section of highway, the road descends and suddenly you see this majestic building constructed of white marble and topped with metal spires gilded with gold, as well as I believe an angel looking down from above. The effect is somewhat like seeing the castle from The Wizard of Oz.'

"So someone spray-painted the witch's demands on the train bridge starting in 1974.

"A video on YouTube shows what the drive looks like at night — and how it inspires the Wizard of Oz reference even if the graffiti is gone.

"In 1989, the 'Deseret News' Washington Bureau reported on an article in the Washington Post Magazine that rated the Washington D.C. Temple the 'Best View on the Beltway.'

"The magazine described the view:

"'As you drive past Kensington at night along the Roller Caster (the freeway stretch between Connecticut and Georgia avenues), the soaring spires and golden highlights of the Mormon Temple are always a thrill — however incongruous.' The 'Deseret News' explained that the temple was 'known affectionately by locals as Oz.'

"Orson Scott Card, who writes a column for the Deseret News' 'Mormon Times' section, tried to explain in 2005 why the movie quote graffiti is funny:

"'This is funny because clearly the Mormons didn't intend their temple to remind anybody of a classic fantasy movie, but once somebody put up the graffiti, it made everybody think of it and laugh.' It wasn't the temple, Card explained, it was the juxapositon of the architecture and the greenery and the clever connection with the graffiti quote.

"Several people responded to the 'Washington Post's' 'Answer Man's' request for information.

"'No one would admit to painting the message over the Beltway, but three people said they had met the person who did it,' he wrote. The leads, however, turned cold.

"But before the paint, there was the idea — an idea that involved crumpled newspapers and Catholic schoolgirls.

"'In the fall of 1974,' Kelly wrote, 'the senior class of Holy Child, a Catholic girls school in Potomac (Md.), visited the Mormon Temple before its dedication. To some, the building resembled the Emerald City.'

"The school was performing "The Wizard of Oz" as a school play that year. The girls hatched a plan to present the witch's message to the world.

"'We thought it was brilliant,' Chris Brennan, Holy Child Class of 1975, told the "Washington Post," 'but being good girls we didn't want to deface any property, so we came up with the idea to use wadded newspapers to spell out the letters.'

"The girls gathered at night and in a commando-style midnight operation — each girl assigned her letter. They then stuffed the newspaper wads into the chain-link fence on the Linden street bridge over the beltway.

"A photograph appeared in the "Montgomery Journal" on Oct. 31, 1974, with the headline, 'Wicked Witch of the Beltway?' The photo caption read in part:

"'Fantasy? Maybe. But isn't it great to have such a sense of fun?'"

("D.C. Temple Graffiti Prank Won't Die,"compiled by Michael De Groote, "Deseret News," 26 July 2011, at:,d.aWM


"Fantasy maybe?"

How about fantasy absolutely?

Let's hope the Mormon Church someday agrees to join in on the laughs. Everyone else is. :)

Edited 17 time(s). Last edit at 05/31/2013 12:18AM by steve benson.

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Posted by: Lostmypassword ( )
Date: May 30, 2013 04:37PM

That explains the flying monkeys.

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Posted by: karin ( )
Date: May 30, 2013 05:35PM

That's the temple I was married in in 88. I never saw those words. I don't think I would have gotten the joke either, as i'm not a wizard of oz fan. Too bad I missed it. Maybe I was driving in the wrong direction?

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Posted by: sonoma ( )
Date: May 30, 2013 10:34PM

karin, was your marriage officiated by david b haight?

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Posted by: knotheadusc ( )
Date: May 30, 2013 06:09PM

Interesting. I lived in the DC area from 1978-1980 and 2003 until 2007. I well remember seeing that graffiti.

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Posted by: Paint ( )
Date: May 30, 2013 06:15PM

Knoth-did you get the reference at the time?

Very interesting Steve-thanks for posting that. Are you sure there isn't a god because this thing with the catholic girls, the Wizard of Oz production and then the temple is just too coincidental to all come together like it did.

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Posted by: knotheadusc ( )
Date: May 31, 2013 09:23AM

I knew what it was about the second time I lived there. My husband pointed out to me. He went to college in DC and then years later converted to Mormonism. Thankfully, he got out of the church.

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Posted by: twojedis ( )
Date: May 30, 2013 06:18PM

This cracked me up when I first learned about it, and it makes me giggle every time I think about it. I'd love to see the witch swoop by on her broom!

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Posted by: Surrender Dorothy ( )
Date: May 30, 2013 07:01PM

Juh-hee-zus, Benson. At first glance, I thought you were yelling at me with the all caps. ;-)

I didn't think there was anything that had been written about the graffito on the bridge that I hadn't seen, but as is the case with every post of yours I read, I learned something new.

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Posted by: toto ( )
Date: May 30, 2013 11:24PM

I actually thought he was doing the same thing.

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Posted by: misterzelph ( )
Date: May 30, 2013 07:13PM

Don't they say the same thing about the San Diego temple?

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Posted by: jpt ( )
Date: May 30, 2013 08:11PM

Disneyland, the locals refer to it as either Sleeping Beauty's Castle or Cinderella's castle.

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Posted by: summer ( )
Date: May 30, 2013 07:17PM

I've always loved that very wonderful beltway bit of humor!

I've driven in many different cities (Boston, New York, L.A.,) and in my opinion the Washington D.C. beltway has bar none, the worst drivers in the country. They are grossly incompetent. Boston, N.Y, and L.A. drivers are daring but generally good. Not so in the environs of the District. I've never been sure why that's the case.

So while you are busy dodging out of the way of people who have no business driving, you glance up briefly to see something that makes you smile.

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Posted by: schmendrick ( )
Date: May 31, 2013 04:06AM

summer Wrote:
> I've driven in many different cities (Boston, New
> York, L.A.,) and in my opinion the Washington D.C.
> beltway has bar none, the worst drivers in the
> country. They are grossly incompetent. Boston,
> N.Y, and L.A. drivers are daring but generally
> good. Not so in the environs of the District. I've
> never been sure why that's the case.

I concur. Chicago might be worse as far as being difficult/stressful to drive in, but DC (and NoVA in general) is the worst place to drive. Now, I say this as someone who learned up in Nebraska, but I've spent my time in L.A., too.

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Posted by: summer ( )
Date: June 01, 2013 05:57PM

NoVA is my idea of a driving nightmare.

Sometimes I wonder if it's all of the international drivers. Once I was in the passenger seat while my then boyfriend was driving in Mexico City (he was on a six-month assignment there.) As I gasped at all of the outlandish maneuvers of the other drivers, he laughed and said that lanes there are regarded as being "merely suggestions." lol

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Posted by: schmendrick ( )
Date: June 03, 2013 10:43PM

My very first driving experience in DC (a little past midnight) involved following a taxi driver for a while who seemed to think the lane marker was a center line.

It sucks that there's so much fun stuff to do in DC, because I dread the trip every time.

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Posted by: Stray Mutt ( )
Date: May 30, 2013 08:01PM

I grew up in the DC area. It was common knowledge among the members that the church owned a large lot in MD. The popular rumor was that it was for a temple. This was back when there were no temples in the US east of the rockies, so a temple in the East would be a big deal. It would mean no need to go west to do your temple work. However, the official word was that the church had no plans for the property. The local LDS royalty -- the Marriotts, the congressional delegations from UT, ID, and ETB when he was there, admitted in private that, yes, it was a temple lot, but not to tell others. After years of denial, the temple was announced and, of course, it was to be on that land. Let's hear it for being forthright in one's dealings.

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Posted by: freckles ( )
Date: May 30, 2013 10:21PM

I live here...I've seen it done in red solo cups. I didn't get the joke when I was sealed in 97'. But I get it

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Posted by: toto ( )
Date: May 30, 2013 11:27PM

I've been inside that temple twice and never knew about the story until someone mentioned it on RfM a while back. Thanks for the full report, and I think it's funny that the Deserted News only includes two photos of the temple without the "Surrender Dorothy" message.

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Posted by: snowball ( )
Date: May 30, 2013 11:28PM

I think I'll scream "surrender Dorthy!" next time I pass by--just for fun. I moved to the DC area shortly before the graffiti went the way of all the earth, so never noticed it. Thanks for the history.

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Posted by: munchybotaz ( )
Date: May 30, 2013 11:42PM

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Posted by: smithscars ( )
Date: May 30, 2013 11:43PM

Great post Steve!!! (as always)

I never even knew about the sign at all & I thought you were screaming at Surrender Dorothy too. I'm glad I clicked on it & read it.

I love it that the people in the area keep putting it back up everytime they clean it off.

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Posted by: steve benson ( )
Date: May 31, 2013 12:16AM

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Posted by: exbishfromportland ( )
Date: May 31, 2013 12:52AM

Oh, lets do this up right!

excuse the quick photo shop job. This is a blog I started but seldom use. But it was a good place to put up a picture!

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Posted by: anagrammy ( )
Date: May 31, 2013 01:24AM

Do you know or sympathize with anyone named Dorothy?

New temple question....


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Posted by: goldenrule ( )
Date: May 31, 2013 07:21AM

I saw it! My uncle got married in the DC temple in 2009. Funny :)

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Posted by: oldklunker ( )
Date: May 31, 2013 08:53AM

How sweet, temple permit required.

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Posted by: Mr. Neutron ( )
Date: May 31, 2013 09:18AM

In my opinion, the Washington, D.C. Temple is one of the greatest achievements in modern architecture. The colors are perfect with the green trees and blue sky, and there isn't a single bad view of the building. If you stand far back on the sidewalk leading up to the entrance and straddle the center line in the pavement, you can see perfect symmetry with the placement of the spires.

When I was in 7th grade and proud of being Mormon, I mentioned that temple in my history class. My teacher asked, "Oh, is that the great big building that looks like Oz when you're on the beltway?" So those naughty school girls got something right.

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Posted by: ladybug ( )
Date: June 01, 2013 05:36PM

in a way, given the rumors of the "oval office" in the building, it is Oz for the mos - my grandparents served their mission in that temple...gah.

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