You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

In Renovation of Golf Club, Donald Trump Also Dressed Up History

The New York Times logo The New York Times 11/24/2015 By NICHOLAS FANDOS
Donald J. Trump at the opening of his golf course in Sterling, Va., earlier this year. Historians say a plaque that Mr. Trump installed commemorating a Civil War site on the property is not accurate. © Jeffrey MacMillan for The Washington Post, via Getty Images Donald J. Trump at the opening of his golf course in Sterling, Va., earlier this year. Historians say a plaque that Mr. Trump installed commemorating a Civil War site on the property is not accurate.

STERLING, Va. — When Donald J. Trump bought a fixer-upper golf club on Lowes Island here for $13 million in 2009, he poured millions more into reconfiguring its two courses. He angered conservationists by chopping down more than 400 trees to open up views of the Potomac River. And he shocked no one by renaming the club after himself.

But that wasn’t enough. Mr. Trump also gave its place in history an upgrade.

Between the 14th hole and the 15th tee of one of the club’s two courses, Mr. Trump installed a flagpole on a stone pedestal overlooking the Potomac, to which he affixed a plaque purportedly designating “The River of Blood.”

Sign Up For NYT Now's Morning Briefing Newsletter

“Many great American soldiers, both of the North and South, died at this spot,” the inscription reads. “The casualties were so great that the water would turn red and thus became known as ‘The River of Blood.’ ”

The inscription, beneath his family crest and above Mr. Trump’s full name, concludes: “It is my great honor to have preserved this important section of the Potomac River!”

Like many of Mr. Trump’s claims, the inscription was evidently not fact-checked.

“No. Uh-uh. No way. Nothing like that ever happened there,” said Richard Gillespie, executive director of the Mosby Heritage Area Association, a historical preservation and education group devoted to an 1,800-square-mile section of the Northern Virginia Piedmont, including the Lowes Island site.

“The only thing that was remotely close to that,” Mr. Gillespie said, was 11 miles up the river at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff in 1861, a rout of Union forces in which several hundred were killed. “The River of Blood?” he added. “Nope, not there.”

Mr. Gillespie’s contradiction of the plaque’s account was seconded by Alana Blumenthal, curator of the Loudoun Museum in nearby Leesburg. (A third local expert, who said he had written to Mr. Trump’s company about the inscription’s falsehoods and offered to provide historically valid replacement text, insisted on anonymity because he did not want to cross the Trump Organization by disclosing a private exchange.)

In a phone interview, Mr. Trump called himself a “a big history fan,” but deflected, played down and then simply disputed the local historians’ assertions of historical fact.

“That was a prime site for river crossings,” Mr. Trump said. “So, if people are crossing the river, and you happen to be in a civil war, I would say that people were shot — a lot of them.”

The club does indeed lie a stone’s throw from Rowser’s Ford, where, as an official historical marker notes, Gen. J.E.B. Stuart led 5,000 Confederate troops including cavalry across the Potomac en route to the Battle of Gettysburg.

But no one died in that crossing, historians said, or in any other notable Civil War engagement on the spot.

“How would they know that?” Mr. Trump asked, when told that local historians had called his plaque a fiction. “Were they there?”

Mr. Trump repeatedly said that “numerous historians” had told him the golf club site was known as The River of Blood. But he said he did not remember their names.

Then he said the historians had actually spoken not to him but to “my people.” But he refused to identify any underlings who might still possess the historians’ names.

“Write your story the way you want to write it,” Mr. Trump said finally, when pressed unsuccessfully for anything that could corroborate his claim. “You don’t have to talk to anybody. It doesn’t make any difference. But many people were shot. It makes sense.”

In its small way, the plaque bears out Mr. Trump’s reputation for being preoccupied with grandeur, superlatives and his own name, but less so with verifiable truth, even when his audience is relatively small.

Members of what he renamed the Trump National Golf Club, and some former employees, said the plaque generally draws laughter or eye-rolls, much like when Mr. Trump periodically descends from his helicopter to walk one course or the other.

One member, who holds a doctorate in history from Tulane University, called the monument merely “strange.”

Much more important, he said, were the much-needed renovations Mr. Trump made to the golf courses.

“I am not going to lead a demonstration over this,” said the member, Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker. “It’s a country club with a golf course, for Pete’s sake.”

Find out what you need to know about the 2016 presidential race today, and get politics news updates via Facebook, Twitter and the First Draft newsletter.

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from The New York Times

The New York Times
The New York Times
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon