The Washington Monument is reopening Monday for the first time in nearly three years, during which more than 150 cracks were fixed after being sustained during a rare earthquake. Everybody knows that the monument was built to honor George Washington, but probably not a lot more about the history of the obelisk. Here are five things you probably don’t know about it:
1. At 555 feet 5 inches tall, it was the tallest man-made structure in the world when it was first dedicated on Feb. 21, 1885.
–It held that distinction until 1889, when the Eiffel Tower was erected.
2. George Washington actually nixed plans for a monument in his honor, which had been approved by the Continental Congress in 1783, because funds were tight.
— It took a century to plan and build — in different stages of construction — and didn’t open to the public until 1888.
3. The obelisk you see today is not the original design for Washington’s monument.
— A design competition was held by a group of Washingtonians, led by Chief Justice John Marshall, for a monument to the first president. The winner was Robert Mills, the architect who had designed the U.S. Treasury Building and U.S. Patent Office, which now houses the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, according to History.com. His winning design included a pantheon with stone columns and statues of some of the Founding Fathers, with a statue of Washington driving a chariot above the entrance. At the center would be a 600-foot-tall obelisk.
4. The monument looks from afar to be white but is really three different colors.
–The cornerstone of the monument was laid on July 4, 1848. Construction began then and went on until 1854, when work stopped because of a lack of funds and a controversy caused by an anti-Catholic group that objected to a donated block of stone from Pope Pius IX, then took possession of the project but did little work on it. No work was done during the Civil War. It was President Ulysses S. Grant, in 1876, (the 100th anniversary of the founding of the United States) who won federal funding to finish the project. Work began again in 1879, but stone could not be obtained from the same quarry in Maryland as had been used for the first 150 feet. Builders obtained some stone from Massachusetts and began using it but didn’t like the color and went back to Maryland to a different quarry. To many people the monument looks as if it has only two colors.
5. Abraham Lincoln was at the ceremony when the cornerstone was dedicated.
— He was then a U.S. congressman from Illinois but was not well known at the time.