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Reading 3: Finishing the Monument
Interest in the Monument grew after the Civil War ended. Engineers studied the foundation several times to see whether it remained strong enough. In 1876, the Centennial of the Declaration of Independence, Congress agreed to appropriate another $200,000 to resume construction. The Monument, which had stood for nearly 20 years at less than one-third of its proposed height, now seemed ready for completion.
Before work could begin again, however, arguments about the most appropriate design resumed. Many people thought that a simple obelisk, one without the colonnade, would be too bare. Architect Mills was reputed to have said that omitting the colonnade would make the monument look like "a stalk of asparagus;" another critic said it offered "little...to be proud of."
This attitude led people to submit alternative designs. Both the Washington National Monument Society and Congress held discussions about how the Monument should be finished. The society considered five new designs, concluding that the one by William Wetmore Story (see Visual Evidence, Drawing 3) seemed "vastly superior in artistic taste and beauty." Congress deliberated over those five as well as Mills's original; while it was deciding, it ordered work on the obelisk to continue. Finally, the members of the Society agreed to abandon the colonnade and alter the obelisk so it conformed to classical Egyptian proportions.
Construction resumed in 1879 under the direction of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas L. Casey of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Casey redesigned the foundation, strengthening it so it could support a structure that would ultimately weigh more than 40,000 tons. He then followed the society's orders and figured out what to do with the memorial stones that had accumulated. Though many people ridiculed them, Casey managed to install all 193 stones in the interior walls.
The building of the Monument proceeded quickly now that Congress had provided sufficient funding. In four years it was finally completed, with the 3,300-pound marble capstone being put in place on December 6, 1884, during another elaborate dedication ceremony. The completed monument stands 555' 5-1/8" tall, with exterior walls of white marble from Maryland and the interior ones lined with Maine granite.
The Washington Monument drew enormous crowds even before it opened officially. During the six months that followed its dedication, 10,041 people climbed the 893 steps to the top. After the elevator that had been used to raise building materials was altered so that it could carry passengers, the number of visitors grew rapidly. As early as 1888 an average of 55,000 people a month went to the top, and today the Washington Monument has more than 800,000 visitors each year.
Questions for Reading 3
1. Do you think the remaining memorial stones should have been included? Why or why not?
2. Other monuments, such as the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, include a large representation of the figure they honor. Would the Washington Monument have been more appropriate if it was clearer who it commemorated?
Reading 3 was compiled from the visitor's guide, "Washington Monument," (Washington, D.C.: National Park Service); materials from the Washington National Monument Society; and Louis Torres, The United States Army Corps of Engineers and the Construction of the Washington Monument (Washington, D.C.: Historical Division, Office of Administrative Services, Office of the Chief of Engineers, 1984).