The Washington Monument is in the news these days because of the earthquake a couple of months ago and the damage to the integrity of the structure. Starting today in Washington, D.C. an inspection of the oblisque will be done by workers repelling down the structure looking for cracks and fissures that could erode the monument in the future. In the meantime the monument is closed to the public.
It may seem surprising, but the memorial to the father of our country took 37-years to build.
The simple, but elegant monument we see today lacks many of the frills it was designed to have. Originally the architect wanted to surround the obilisque with a hundred foot tall Greek temple, with niches for the statues of thirty prominent Americans. Above the entrance was to be a massive statue of Washington, clad in a toga, driving a battle chariot, drawn by Arabian horses.
Maybe it was a good thing the economy of the day called for a more modest memorial.
Private citizens took up a collection and the cornerstone was laid on the 4th of July, 1848. Building was slow. Six years later the monument was only 152 feet tall.
Many of the stones for the monument were donated. States, territories, even the Cherokee nation contributed stones to the project. Greece sent a white marble slab from the ruin of the Parthenon. Pope Pius the 9th, sent a marble slab from the temple of Concord in Rome.
Near Dawn, in early March of 1854, the pope’s gift was stolen from the site. A band of masked men overpowered the guard and rolled the stone in a handcart to the Potomac River. It was never recovered. Later some of the thieves confessed. They were members of the an anti foreigner, anti-catholic political group called the “Know Nothings”. No one was ever arrested for crime.
Work on the project practically stopped for 24 years. Finally, in 1878 the Federal Government stepped in and got the monument to George Washington finished.