Democracy Dies in Darkness

Opinions

The Washington Monument will endure

By Eric Lamar

September 22, 2017 at 4:00 PM

Many thousands of visitors can unhappily attest that the District's most visual symbol has been closed for more than a year.

The issue now with the Washington Monument is a faulty elevator system that has stranded people at the top and everywhere in between.

The answer?

Shut 'er down.

The National Park Service decided that the monument will remain closed until spring 2019, as the lift is fixed and the entrance upgraded.

It's fair to say that it almost stands in spite of itself. The history of the monument is a long list of crises.

The plan to honor Gen. George Washington, our nation's first president, has been variously beset by every design, political, structural and financial problem you could dream up. Throw in an earthquake for good measure.

Construction began in the 1840s and quickly ran out of steam when it became embroiled in virulent anti-immigration feeling associated with the Know Nothing Party.

Various groups were sending memorial stones to line the interior walls, and Pope Pius IX sent one inscribed "Rome to America" which, in the anti-Catholic mood of the day, resulted in a firestorm.

Congress dropped its support like a hot potato, and fundraising dried up, leaving the monument looking like a broken-off tooth at a height of about 178 feet, where it sat for years.

President Ulysses S. Grant approved legislation in 1876 for the monument's completion.

The simple shaft of today was originally planned to have a grand colonnade that, depending on the year it was being considered, was Roman, Victorian or some mix of the two. Also under constant discussion were the proper height and whether there should be a statute or design element at the top.

Amid the indecision and squabbling, some became concerned that the weight of the monument was simply too much for the ground on which it sat.

Into this monumental maelstrom stepped Lt. Col. Thomas Lincoln Casey of the Army Corps of Engineers, who understood how the District worked, took the monument up to 555 feet and doubled the size of the original foundation.

And a project that began in 1848 officially opened in 1888.

Though we may be frustrated over the lack of access to the monument these three years, perhaps we can pause and remember that like the monument, Washington's life was a series of setbacks and defeats requiring fortitude, persistence and no small amount of courage. His father and beloved older brothers died when he was young, limiting his options for education and ascent. He became a land surveyor, reveling in the outdoors and life on the frontier. Even his long and storied military service was beset by hardship, want and defeat. He suffered bouts of serious ill health and family misfortune.

Through it all, his persistence, tenacity and ambition sustained him and paved the path to history.

The Washington Monument may be down for a bit, but like the man, it will endure, stronger for the hardship.

The writer is a D.C. tour guide.

Read more about this issue:

Kristin Capps: The Washington Monument looks broken. Let's keep it that way.

George W. Casey Jr.: The Mall needs a memorial for the war on terrorism

Thomas Luebke: Let's get past the Mall turf war

Alexander Heffner: Why doesn't John Adams have a memorial in Washington?

Sam Roche: The Eisenhower memorial needs a do-over

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