The Washington Post

A real high: Seeing D.C. from the Washington Monument’s construction elevator

We were told not to take pictures of the White House. The Secret Service would likely be watching.

We had been waiting for months to get clearance to go out on the Washington Monument scaffolding to get a close look at the massive earthquake repair job.

I’d been up inside the interior in May, but this week we suddenly got the okay to go take a look at the exterior.

I figured we’d go up in the outside construction lift because we’d have to crawl out a window if we went up inside the monument, and that would certainly not be feasible.

Washington Post photographer Jonathan Newton and video journalist Whitney Leaming were assigned to go along. Pictures and video from up there were sure to be spectacular.

Get a rare look at Washington, D.C., and the Washington Monument, from the scaffolding that surrounds the obelisk. Repair work is drawing to a close on marble damaged in the 2011 earthquake. The Post's Whitney Leaming goes for a climb to see the monument up close. (The Washington Post)

I wanted to see what the battered skin of the venerable structure looked like up close.

Jonathan and Whitney wanted to take readers and viewers up there with them, via photographs and video.

None of us was sure what the scaffolding would feel like near the windy 500-foot level. Would we be clinging for our lives?

Nor did we know what the ride in open-air lift would be like.

So it was interesting as the lift rattled skyward. I watched the National World War II Memorial recede below, and the broad twisting ribbon of the Potomac come into view and wind off toward the horizon.

Washington looks like an orderly, toy town from up there, away from the traffic and the contentious world below.

Helicopters and flocks of birds flew beneath us.

Someone remarked that the runway at the Reagan National Airport looked very short from up here.

Our National Park Service hosts were helpful and knowledgable.

The monument, more than a century old and almost 40 years in the making, is banged up, from the 2011 earthquake, the weather and the decades. But they’ve patched it up nicely.

And Jonathan noted that many budget problems might be fixed if they installed an external elevator for paying tourists.

The ride, and the view, are that good.

As for the White House, we complied with our instructions, and waved to anyone who was observing.

Mike is a general assignment reporter who also covers Washington institutions and historical topics.


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