|April, cherry blossoms, the tidal basin, a colorful sunset--Washington would be pleased.|
|The Mills design was scaled back over the|
years due to its cost, bearing only a passing
resemblance to what we know today.
|The Capitol Mall looking west toward the Potomac about 1868. The Department of|
Agriculture is to the left, the 150-foot stump of the Washington Monument stands
on what was then the riverbank just beyond that.
|An 1870s vintage proposal|
for completion of the
|Thomas McLelland's Gothic|
Work continued until 1854, the Virginia marble reaching a height of 150 feet. Then financial mismanagement of the Know Nothing Party and eventually the Civil War brought things to a halt. There it sat for 22 years, an embarrassing, ignoble stump literally in the nation's front yard (above). After the war, money was tight, politics was even tighter, and no one could agree on what to do. Finally, the nation's centennial in 1876 was the impetus to complete the project, except that engineers quickly discovered the bluestone foundation of 1848 was totally inadequate, threatening to turn the monument into the leaning tower of Washington. It had to be reinforced with lots and lots of concrete. Proposals for completing the effort ranged from the sublime (a monumental statue of Washington atop the completed portion making it, essentially, merely a pedestal, left), to the ridiculous (converting it to a Gothic cathedral-like structure, above, right).
|The Washington Obelisk|
Costs were still a problem--an estimated one million dollars ($21-million today). Mills' birthday-cake circular colonnade was the first to go, though Victorian prudes objected to the "naked" obelisk (today it's sometime seen as a national phallic symbol). As work began anew in 1879, the triumphal North insisted the rest be of Massachusetts marble (the change of hue was so obvious Virginia marble was once more used from the 176-foot level on up). The capstone was set in 1884, the monument opened to the public in 1888. Later improvements involved the replacement of a steam elevator (12 minutes to the top) with an electric one in 1901 (cutting the trip to 70 seconds). When completed, Washington's monument was the tallest building in the world, a title it held for five years until the completion of Paris' Eiffel tower in 1889 (986 feet tall). It's still the tallest masonry structure in the world. An earthquake in August, 2011, has closed the monument for repairs until 2014.