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Friday, September 09, 2005

Patently Patriotic Post of the Day (9/09/05)

The Washington Monument, the simple, graceful obelisk that dominates the National Mall, has become more than just a memorial to the country's first president; it has become an enduring symbol of the city itself.

The structure — some architectural historians have called it as much a sculpture as a building — stands 555 feet, 5 inches, and although the monument has a stairwell, one need only take the 70-second elevator ride to the top and the observation floor. The trip is well worth it, as the views are superb, with stunning views of the city's monumental core and beyond.

Washington himself approved the general site of the monument, as Congress designated that an equestrian statue of the Revolutionary War hero be built in the new capital in 1783. When Washington approved L'Enfant's plan, the memorial was to be situated at the axis between the Capitol and the White House. The actual building is a few yards east of that exact nexus because the ground there proved too marshy.

While Congress mandated that the monument be built, it did not appropriate any funds. Fifty years after the original Congressional resolution, in 1833, a private group formed to raise money for construction. The Washington National Monument Society sought to raise $1 from each citizen. By 1836 it had raised considerably less than that — $25,000 — but was able to stage a design contest for the monument. Won by architect Robert Mills, the original design featured an obelisk emerging from a circular colonnade topped by Washington riding in a horse drawn Roman chariot. With all elements save for the obelisk eliminated, the cornerstone was laid in 1848.

Construction was halted during the Civil War, leaving a 150 foot stump at what was then the western edge of the Mall. Funds were hard to come by, so in 1876 the Society ceded the project to the federal government. The completed monument was finally dedicated on February 21, 1885, and finally opened to the public in 1888.

The stark beauty of the Washington Monument, particularly at night, is one of the glories of the capital city, and moved poet Robert Frost to pen the poem, "The Diver."


From Explore DC