Recovered from an earthquake, the Washington Monument is set to reopen

WASHINGTON — The cracks have been repaired. The stone has been patched. The elevator is fixed.

The 500 tons of scaffolding have been down for weeks, and the lawn is freshly mowed.


On Monday, 994 days since an earthquake shook the Washington Monument from top to bottom, the marble-and-granite national landmark reopens to the public.

Tours resume at 1 p.m., following a 10 a.m. reopening ceremony.


"We just got the new exhibits installed yesterday," Bob Vogel, superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks, said during a preview visit to the monument Saturday.

The outer perimeter of fencing has been removed, along with the construction road. But an inner fence perimeter still was in place Saturday keeping tourists at bay.

Since the August afternoon when a video camera captured terrified tourists fleeing from the shaking observation level 500 feet up, an estimated 1.5 million people have been deprived of the spectacular view and a major stop on visits to Washington.

For more than 2 1/2 years, the mammoth two-toned structure stood surrounded by a chain-link fence with signs declaring it closed, as the seasons on the National Mall passed and visitors snapped pictures from afar.

Yet it was always there.

"It is so ever-present," Caroline Cunningham, president of the Trust for the National Mall, the Mall's nonprofit fundraising partner, said last week. "I think people feel connected to it whether they can get into it or whether they can't."

Eighteen-hundred tour tickets for Monday will be available starting at 8:30 a.m. at the Monument Lodge in Washington on 15th Street between Madison and Jefferson drives, the National Park Service said.

Tuesday, the monument will begin seasonal hours of 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tickets can be reserved online at the website Vogel said when online ticketing opened for the season on April 16, 16,000 tickets were gone in 15 minutes


The repair project came after the 5.8-magnitude earthquake struck the East Coast on Aug. 23, 2011, whipsawing the monument, shaking stone loose from the surface, and opening cracks so wide that light shined through.

Debris tumbled from the exterior and interior of the 555-foot-tall obelisk, damaging the internal elevator and leaving cracks and gouges in the outside stone.

"I had only been superintendent for a couple of weeks," Vogel said in an email last week. "I have to admit it was something of a trial by fire and a huge challenge."

The repair project required, among other things, inspectors to lower themselves on ropes from the monument's top to conduct up-close, and hair-raising, examinations of the damaged stone on each face of the structure.

It required 2.7 miles of new sealant between stones, and 53 stainless steel "saddle anchors" to bolt in place slabs on the monument's slanted pyramidion in case of another earthquake.

The slabs had been held in place mainly by gravity, and engineers worried that the slabs could fall off, James Perry, the chief of resource management for the Mall and memorial parks, said Saturday.


The repair work was relatively straightforward, but "it's the Washington Monument, so there's a lot of it," Perry said, as he stood on the observation level inside the structure.

Robert Collie, project manager for Perini Management Services, the general contractor, said there was a bittersweet feeling now that the job was ending.

"On one hand, we made so many great friends," he said. "Now those teams are sort of dissipating and going elsewhere."

The repair bill was an estimated $15 million. But that was cut in half when local businessman and philanthropist David Rubenstein announced that he would chip in $7.5 million. The government paid the rest.

"I think the National Park Service and the various contractors did a spectacular job," Rubenstein said in an email last week.

"I am glad that everyone can once again enjoy the unique views from the top and also have a chance to think about the extraordinary things George Washington did for our country," he said.


Rubenstein was expected to be present for the reopening Monday along with, among others, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis and television personality Al Roker.

The most visible part of the repair project was the external scaffolding, which started going up in February 2013 and was topped out that May.

The scaffolding went up 500 feet and was used to support work crews and a hoist for workers and materials. The remaining distance to the top was reached by ladder.

The scaffolding was not bolted to the monument, but, rather, squeezed it like a vice, with wood-padded braces on all four sides every 26 feet up.

On July 8, a huge grid of decorative lights attached to the scaffolding was turned on and graced the nighttime landscape until Nov. 4, when the project began to wind down. The scaffolding started coming down Nov. 12.

"People loved the scaffolding and the lighting," Cunningham said. "That created its own excitement."


She said she was able to go up the scaffolding with other VIPs after it was installed and place her finger on the monument's tip.

"That was, I think, the most amazing thing that I've ever done in my life," she said. The view was breathtaking, and the monument felt solid and timeless, she added.

In addition to the earthquake damage, the monument, which was begun in 1848 and finished in 1884, had seen more than a century of rain, snow, sleet and wind. Up close, it was a patchwork of repairs going back decades.

Cracks needed to be filled. Loose hunks of marble had to be dug out and replaced with scores of individual patches called "dutchmen." Joints had to be smoothed and cleaned. Most of the damage was near the top.

Officials have said 150 dutchman patches were used, so many that work crews ran out of spare marble they had on hand for repairs.

But a company was found that had salvaged old marble steps from homes in Baltimore. And that marble had come from the same quarry as some of the monument marble.


Normally entered by about 600,000 visitors a year, the monument honors George Washington, Revolutionary War hero and the nation's first president.

The monument, one of the tallest free-standing masonry structures in the world, is also perhaps the most recognized of American structures.

The cornerstone was laid July 4, 1848, at a ceremony attended by then-President James Polk, and then-congressman Abraham Lincoln. Work halted from 1858 to 1878 because of a lack of funds

In December 1884, a 3,300 pound marble capstone was placed atop the monument and capped with a pyramid of aluminum.

The following Feb. 21, on a sunny, frigid day, the monument was dedicated.

Among those in attendance was Secretary of War Robert Lincoln, son of the assassinated chief executive who had been present 37 years before.


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