Washington Monument: Praise be to God
Of all the American presidents, only one earned the distinction of being the father of his country. For some, the honor of being held in such high regard may have gone to their head. Thankfully, our first president was also modest and cared more for his country than being admired. He even rejected the idea of being made king.
As early as 1783, plans for a national monument had been authorized by Congress in the form of an equestrian statue. However it never materialized. Washington's death in 1799 sparked another round of interest for an appropriate tribute to him by building a special sepulcher within the Capitol itself, but again lack of funding delayed any such plans.
In the early 1800s, the country again sought to honor him with a monument in Washington, D.C as a tribute for his military leadership during the American Revolution. But, he admonished Congress to use the nation's resources on more important things.
In any event, plans were already being made. The Washington National Monument Society, established in 1833 by Congress, had been working on a project designed to build the largest monument ever that, “…whose splendor will be without parallel in the world."
In 1836, famed architect Robert Mills was commissioned to design the monument. Mill’s original elaborate design was scuttled and replaced with a simpler one. The monument would be an obelisk towering approximately 555 feet, 5 ½ inches. The width would be 55 feet and 1 ½ inches.
Construction began on July 4, 1848. Patriotic and civic groups donated commemorative stones that were placed in the walls surrounding the stairwell. However, unpatriotic individuals desecrated the unfinished monument with acts of vandalism and theft. Due to the actions of a few, contributions eventually dried up in 1854, leaving the monument only 152 feet tall. Construction would not resume for another 20 years, partly due to the Civil War.
However, with the nation's first centennial in 1876, President Ulysses S. Grant authorized government funding to complete the project. It was completed by the Army Corps of Engineers in December of 1884. It was built primarily of white marble blocks from Maryland with a few from Massachusetts.
The interior walls are inset with 193 memorial stones presented by private individuals, organizations, cities, States and various nations. When the cornerstone was laid, many items were deposited inside, including the Holy Bible. However, it would be another four years before the public could view the interior as construction was still being done. It was officially opened to the public on October 9, 1888. Today, the flight of 896 steps, surround an elevator which goes to the observation level.
Many may not be aware the monument is crowned at its apex with an aluminum cap. It had taken twenty five years. On its east side are inscribed in Latin, “Laus Deo,” meaning “Praise be to God.” Prior to being placed atop the monument it was put on exhibit at Tiffany's in New York City. Many visitors were allowed to leap over it and were able to say they had actually jumped over the top of the Washington Monument.
In October 2007,it was discovered a replica of the cap on display had been placed in a position the Laus Deo inscription could not be seen and the phrase was also omitted from the placard describing it. Those who were aware of the inscription quickly set up a hue and cry criticizing the National Park Service over the omission as well as the positioning. Plans were made to rectify the situation.
On August 23, 2011, the monument sustained damage during an earthquake. Inspectors discovered a crack near the top of the structure. A block was also partially dislodged, and stone, paint and mortar chips, littered the interior and observation deck. It was announced the monument would be closed indefinitely until repairs were completed.
For more information on operating hours and how to obtain free tickets, visit the Washington Monument homepage
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