Washington Monument facts


Scaffolding covered the Washington Monument as repairs were made after the 2011 earthquake. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
May 9

To take our quiz about the Washington Monument, click here.

You may have heard that the Washington Monument is reopening Monday after being closed for repairs since August 2011, when it was damaged by an earthquake.

The 555-foot-tall monument, which was built to honor the nation’s first president, is an obelisk, a shape that looks like a sharpened pencil. When it was completed, in 1884, it was the tallest building in the world. These are commonly known facts, but Kids­Post wanted to share some details you might not know, so we talked to Brad Berger, a National Park Service ranger at the Mall.

It’s shorter than intended. In 1836, architect Robert Mills designed a 600-foot-tall monument. But when the Army Corps of Engineers took over the long-stalled project in 1877, the height was scaled back to 555 feet, 10 times the width of the base. “It’s the formula for what an obelisk is,” Berger said of the design that dates from ancient Egypt. “A decision was made not to tempt fate” by making it taller.

There are objects hidden in the cornerstone. It’s not unusual to put items or a time capsule inside a monument. Berger said a box in the cornerstone, from 1848, contains newspapers, maps, money, letters from politicians and the coat of arms of George Washington’s family.

It has a connection to Abraham Lincoln. When the cornerstone was laid “in attendance was a little-known congressman named Abraham Lincoln,” Berger said. When the monument was dedicated, on February 21, 1885, Lincoln’s son Robert Todd Lincoln was there. Years later, he would see a memorial built nearby for his father, the 16th president.

There’s graffiti in the monument. During the Civil War, Union troops used the unfinished monument as a fort and training ground. Soldier David C. Hickey carved his name on a wall. You can see it in what is now the lobby, Berger said.

It wasn’t the first Washington Monument. Baltimore built one in 1829. That column — with Washington in a toga — was also designed by Mills. But even earlier, on July 4, 1827, the residents of Boonsboro, Maryland, built a stone memorial. The surrounding park is now called Washington Monument State Park.

Christina Barron

If you go

What: The Washington Monument

Where: 15th Street and
Madison Drive NW

When: The monument opens Monday. Tours, including an elevator ride to the top, will begin at 1 p.m. Tickets will be handed out starting at 8:30 a.m. Beginning Tuesday, open daily 9 a.m.
to 5 p.m. (from Memorial Day to
Labor Day, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.)

How much: Time-specific tickets for same-day visits are free. Advance tickets can be ordered online for a fee. As of press time, online tickets were sold out through mid-June.

For more information: A parent can go to www.nps.gov/wamo.

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