I think that anyone who has seen pictures of Washington DC, knows about the monuments that are there. One of those monuments, dedicated to our first president is quite unique in its design…the Washington Monument. The Washington monument was completed on December 6, 1884 when the capstone was set in place, but was not dedicated until February 21, 1885 and didn’t officially open until October 9, 1888. In the six months following the dedication ceremony, over 10,000 people climbed the nearly 900 steps to the top of the Washington Monument. Today, an elevator makes the trip far easier, and more than 800,000 people visit the monument each year. Upon its completion, it became the world’s tallest building…at that time anyway…standing 554 feet 7 11/32 inches, and is made of some 36,000 blocks of marble and granite. A city law passed in 1910 restricted the height of new buildings to ensure that the monument will remain the tallest structure in Washington, DC…a fitting tribute to the man known as the “Father of His Country.”
The Washington Monument is an obelisk on the National Mall. First conceived in 1832, the Washington Monument took decades to build. By law, it is the tallest structure in the District of Columbia, and is twice as tall as any other obelisk in the world. Among memorials in Washington, it is unique. Whereas people visit memorials to Lincoln and Jefferson to see giant statues of the men they commemorate, the highlight of the Washington Monument, is the monument itself. The smaller statue of Washington that sits inside the monument almost goes unnoticed. As John Steele Gordon wrote in his book, Washington’s Monument and the Fascinating History of the Obelisk, “The obelisk, silent as only stone can be, nonetheless seems to say as nothing else can, ‘Here is something significant.’”
The monument’s construction began in 1848, but was halted from 1854 to 1877 due to a lack of funds, a struggle for control over the Washington National Monument Society, and the intervention of the American Civil War. The stone structure was finally completed in 1884, but internal ironwork, the knoll, and other finishing touches were not completed until 1888. A difference in shading of the marble, visible approximately 150 feet or 27% of the way up, shows where construction was halted and later resumed with marble from a different source. The original design was by Robert Mills, but he did not include his proposed colonnade due to a lack of funds, proceeding only with a bare obelisk. Despite many proposals to embellish the obelisk, only its original flat top was altered to a pointed marble pyramidion, in 1884.
Anytime a structure is made of stone, you can expect that while it is very strong for the most part, things like tornadoes, earthquakes, and hurricanes can cause significant damage. Washington Monument was damaged during the 2011 Virginia earthquake and Hurricane Irene in the same year and had to be closed to the public while the structure was assessed and repaired. After 32 months of repairs, the National Park Service and the Trust for the National Mall reopened the Washington Monument to visitors on May 12, 2014. Then, as of September 2016, the monument had to be closed indefinitely due to reliability issues with the current elevator system. On December 2, 2016, the National Park Service announced that the monument would be closed until 2019 in order to modernize the elevator. The project is expected to run as much as $3 million to complete.