10 Facts About the Washington Monument as It Reopens

After a nearly three-year, $15 million renovation, visitors again welcome.

May 12, 2014, 1:10 PM
PHOTO: The Washington Monument this Oct. 1, 2013 file photo.
The Washington Monument stands in Washington, D.C. in this Oct. 1, 2013 file photo.
Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg via Getty Images

May 12, 2014 — -- The Washington Monument is back in business.

After a nearly three-year, $15 million renovation to repair damage caused by the earthquake that shook its foundation in August 2011, the iconic marble tower reopened during a ceremony Monday morning, allowing the first visitors to travel to the top since the earthquake hit.

The earthquake left a crack at the top of the monument and many smaller ones throughout.

Federal taxpayers footed $7.5 million of the cost. The other $7.5 million came from David Rubenstein, co-founder and co-CEO of The Carlyle Group, a Washington-based asset management firm that manages $199 billion across 120 funds.

Rubenstein has said he wants donors to follow a model of "patriotic philanthropy." He has made major gifts to the National Archives and Library of Congress, The Associated Press reported.

At the ceremony, Rubenstein called his donation a "symbol of what I think other Americans can do with their money."

For 32 months, tourists were barred from entering the memorial after the 5.8-magnitude earthquake caused more than 150 cracks in the solid stone structure.

Normally, the monument attracts upwards of 625,000 visitors to the observation deck and millions to its grounds.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell thanked Parks Service employees and the contractors who repaired the monument for fixing it "safely, structurally sound, on time and on budget."

To accommodate larger-than-normal crowds, the monument is holding extended hours though this summer.

Finally getting the chance to visit? Here are 10 facts you should know:

1. The speaker of the House basically predicted an earthquake more than a century ago. Rep. Robert Winthrop, a guest at the 1848 cornerstone dedication ceremony, proclaimed, "The storms of winter must blow and beat upon it ... the lightnings of Heaven may scar and blacken it. An earthquake may shake its foundations ... but the character which commemorates and illustrates it is secure."

2. At the time of its completion in 1884, the 555-foot, 5.125-inch structure was the tallest building in the world. But it's nearly 45 inches shorter than initially planned and lacks several elements of the original design, including 30 stone columns and an elaborate statue of George Washington astride a horse-drawn chariot. Though it was eclipsed as the world's tallest building by the Eiffel Tower in 1889, the monument remained the planet's tallest freestanding stone structure.

3. The Washington Monument may be the most impressive tribute to America's founding president -- but it's certainly not the first. The city of Boonsboro, Maryland, erected a 34-foot tower in honor of George Washington in 1927. And in 1929, Baltimore built a 179-foot Washington Monument, designed by the same man who planned the monument in D.C.

4. Relics from Washington's tenure -- including a personal portrait, copies of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, an American flag and newspapers from at least 14 states -- are hidden in the 24,500-pound cornerstone.

5. Three future presidents, including then-obscure Rep. Abraham Lincoln, Secretary of State James Buchanan and Rep. Andrew Johnson, attended the cornerstone ceremony in 1848. (Washington Mayor Vincent Gray, Jewell and "American Idol" winner Candice Glover attended the reopening ceremony Monday.)

6. Money was tight. Though the Washington Monument Society solicited donations for a decade, it had trouble raising sufficient funds to build Robert Mill's elaborate design. Still, construction began on the Washington Monument in 1848 -- but was stalled again after a change in the Washington Monument Society's administration alienated donors and led to bankruptcy in 1855. According to the National Park Service, the monument stood partly finished for more than two decades, "doing more to embarrass the nation than honor its most important founding father."

7. When the monument officially opened in 1886, visitors had to climb 898 steps to reach the observation deck. After a short hiatus, the monument re-opened in 1888 with a public, steam-driven elevator, which made the trip to the top in just 10 to 12 minutes. However, it was considered too dangerous for women and children, who were prohibited from riding. The steam elevator was replaced by an electric elevator just 13 years later, in 1901. The ride now takes only about 70 seconds.

8. Three different types of stone were used to build the Washington Monument. After the first quarry used for the construction became unavailable, builders turned to a quarry in Massachusetts. But problems with the quality and color of the stone prompted builders to use stone purchased from a third quarry near Baltimore to complete the upper two-thirds of the monument. The colors of the three different quarries did not match perfectly, and the stripes caused by the changes are still visible today.

9. The monument weighs an estimated 100,000 tons -- and the pyramidon alone weighs 300 tons.

10. In 1982, a 66-year-old Navy veteran named Norman Mayer drove to the base of the structure and threatened to blow up the monument with 1,000 pounds of TNT unless government officials considered banning nuclear weapons. Several tourists were trapped inside the building, but were later released. The police eventually shot and killed Mayer but when they searched his car for the TNT, they found nothing.

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