They come in the night. They seem to hover, colorful lights twinkling against dark skies and shadowed alleys over the District’s most populous areas. Some have suggested they’re alien in origin; others speculate that they’re drones or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Mystified residents write into the local blog Popville, wondering about the origins of these mysterious fixtures. The blog’s editors simply note that, “From time to time, chandeliers appear floating around town.”
This mystery has endured since 2019, when the first chandelier appeared in an alley in the hip neighborhood of Adams Morgan. The guerrilla artist is a D.C. resident—who wishes to remain anonymous—working in league with other local creatives. “I wanted to create more consternation among people,” the artist says. “Because D.C. can be a very square city, causing more confusion and consternation is an aim. Another is to create more levitation. There’s too much gravity in this city. More things should levitate.”
Above all, though, it’s to turn the private, public. “Where I lived, chandeliers are really expensive. You can’t just get one. You keep them for generations. I found out that, here, the bourgeoisie needs to get rid of them all the time to remodel and they sometimes just throw them away.”
There have been at least 12 chandeliers hung over the past three years; however, the police have removed some, and others might have been stolen. “Like most street art, it is ephemeral,” the artist says. “They have lasted anywhere between three days and three years.” An estimated nine survive today, but more are planned for the future (and any could disappear at any time).
“But are they safe?” an anxious observer might ask. The artist assures they are. Not only do they use industrial materials, but each one is tested for months outdoors before they’re deployed. Location is important. “I look for two things. One is that it’s public. I want to move objects from the private space of the rich to public spaces where everyone can enjoy them—so no backyards. The other is safety, so never over a street. And not a place where you cannot avoid it.” The Exorcist Stairs in Georgetown, for example, would be a perfect spot, were it not for the fact that a passerby would be forced to walk under the fixture. “I’ve learned that people have very different levels of anxiety. I don’t want to ruin someone’s path because I just wanted to hang a chandelier there.”
All of the installations are made from light fixtures that have been discarded by the rich—with the exception of one. In Rock Creek Park, one blooming flower light was created from scratch and hung with reverence. “That chandelier started out of pain and grief for the loss of our friend who died in 2020. She would always ‘flower bomb’ places and give flowers to strangers. She was such a wonderful human. We decided to give her a present back.”
And each chandelier is a gift to the city.
Know Before You Go
The best time to spot the chandeliers is in the evening after a sunny day. They run on solar panels and light up at night—making them much easier to see. Look up! This is great advice for any city; there’s so much happening above eye level that’s easy to miss.
Current known locations (subject to change):
Grant Circle Park in the Petworth neighborhood, across from St. Gabriel Catholic Church
16th St. NW & U St. NW in the patch of grass next to the Brittany Condominiums
Park Road Park in the Columbia Heights neighborhood, between Sherman Ave., NW; Park Road, NW; & New Hampshire Ave., NW
Adam’s Morgan Alleyway in the alley behind 2425 18th St NW, Washington, DC 20009
Columbia Heights Dog Park on 11th St. NW & Park Rd. NW
East Potomac Park opposite the Wharf, Buckeye Dr. & Ohio Dr. SW
Lola Beaver Memorial Park, 9th St. NE & Massachusetts Ave. NE
Mount Pleasant Alleyway behind Kilbourne Place NW & 17th St. NW