Washington Monument is open again after earthquake renovation

Washington Monument is open again after earthquake renovation
By Stefan Grobe
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After 32 months, the Washington Monument, one of the most iconic landmarks in the US capital, is finally open to the public again after it suffered widespread damage in an August 2011 earthquake along the American East Coast.

Following a public ceremony on the Monument’s grounds on Monday morning, public tours resumed a few hours later.

Tickets can be reserved online at the Web site Recreation.gov. When online ticketing opened for the season a month ago, 16,000 tickets were gone in 15 minutes.

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Since the 5.8 magnitude earthquake, the 130-year-old monument was covered in scaffolding to repair the more than 150 cracks in the 555-foot (170 m) obelisk’s white marble.

Last year, 488 lamps restored the monument’s glow during its restoration as sensors lit the monument automatically each night at dusk.

Philanthropist David Rubenstein matched the $7.5 million in public funds allocated by the US Congress for the monument’s restoration. He told the Associated Press on Sunday that he was surprised how much the monument means to people who have written him letters and e-mail. He said he’s pleased the job was done on time and on budget.

“It became clear to me that the Washington Monument symbolizes many things for our country — the freedoms, patriotism, George Washington, leadership,” he said. “So it’s been moving to see how many people are affected by it.”

During an early look at the restored monument, Rubenstein hiked to the top, taking the stairs in a suit and tie. Memorial plaques inside the monument from each state seemed to be clean and intact, and the view “is really spectacular,” he said.

The monument was built in two phases between 1848 and 1884. When it was completed, it was the world’s tallest structure for five years until it was eclipsed by the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

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 K. 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 February 21, on a sunny, frigid day, the monument was dedicated. Among those in attendance was US Secretary of War Robert Lincoln, son of the assassinated chief executive who had been present nearly 37 years before.

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