We were among the few who dropped down to the Mall yesterday to attend the ceremony marking George Washington's 253rd birthday anniversary and the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the Washington Monument.
A century ago, on Feb. 21, 1885 -- one day ahead of Washington's birthday, which fell that year on a Sunday -- thousands of Washingtonians and visitors thronged to the base of the recently completed 555-foot obelisk, braving ice and snow. The monument had been completed by the Army Corps of Engineers the previous December, but the dedication was delayed until Washington's Birthday.
Washingtonians were invited to the affair in a front-page Post advertisement placed by "The Boston Dry Goods Store -- Woodward & Lothrop," then on Pennsylvania Avenue.
President Chester A. Arthur, with only a dozen days remaining in his administration, presided. Crowds began gathering around 9 a.m. for the midday event and the festivities lasted through the afternoon. The Washington Post's editors led the next day's paper with a bold headline: "DEDICATED! The Act Which Completes the Washington Monument -- Impressive Ceremonies -- President Arthur Accepts the Obelisk for the People . . ."
There was no crowd estimate, simply a statement that the ceremony was one of the largest gatherings in Washington's history. However, only three state governors and "very few" members of Congress attended. About 7,000 persons participated in a great parade from the Monument grounds, up 15th Street and thence along Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol.
According to The Post's account, the "Rev. Henderson Suter, pastor of Christ Church, Alexandria, . . . offered a prayer of about 10 minutes' duration during which time most of those present sat or stood reverentially with uncovered heads."
Yesterday's ceremony lasted only about 20 minutes and was attended by about 200 persons, many of them tourists. Manus J. (Jack) Fish, regional director of the National Park Service, presided; Reps. D. French Slaughter (R-Va.) and Tommy Robinson (D-Ark.) spoke, and others looked on. Among them were a couple of Washington oldtimers, the sixth and seventh directors of the National Park Service since it was formed in 1916 -- Conrad L. Wirth, 84 (and looking much younger), of Bethesda, director from 1951 to 1964, and George B. Hartzog Jr., 64, of McLean, director from 1964 to 1972.
Incidentally, although it didn't get any attention, the D.C. Society of the Sons of the American Revolution joined Thursday with the Benjamin B. French lodge of the Masons to commemorate the actual 100th anniversary of the monument. The Masons had participated in the 1885 event.