The Jefferson Memorial is undergoing repairs — including to the ceiling (which dropped a slab of stone.)

If a slab falls in a memorial and nobody hears it, did it really fall?

Yes, and we recently discovered proof. A 5-foot long, 3-foot wide chunk of limestone dropped out of the ceiling of the Jefferson Memorial in April, says National Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst. No one was injured, and it’s likely that no visitors ever noticed the hole.

“It was in the early morning hours. That would suggest there probably wasn’t anyone around, or if there was, there probably weren’t very many people,” Litterst says.

Repairing the hole marks the start of a new round of fixes for the Jefferson Memorial, which was most recently shored up to the tune of $14 million in 2011. That was because the structure’s original builders didn’t sink the sea wall’s pilings into bedrock, causing the wall to begin sliding into the Tidal Basin.

Water was the culprit in this case, too. The slab came loose because water infiltrated the roof of the portico, the front porch-like part of the memorial, corroding the supporting steel.


A view of the portico ceiling, where the slab of limestone dropped from.

The water got in because of malfunctioning gutters on the roof of the memorial, which the Park Service will fix before replacing the limestone. Additional repairs to the portico may be necessary depending on the extent of the water damage, Litterst says.

The Park Service has set up barriers around large sections of the portico to keep visitors safe from a potentially unstable ceiling. Soon construction crews will install safety netting as well, Litterst says.

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