Hometown Tourist, Ch 11: The Washington Monument

For people outside of Washington, DC, our city is synonymous with many things. Among these, political gridlock, superiority complexes, paranoia, and an increasing inability to get along are ones I hear about most often these days.

Something I am more proud to boast about is that we are home to a vast number of impressive national monuments and memorials. Even if you aren’t on the National Mall, it’s hard not to pass a plaque, or stumble across a statue of historical relevance in this city. Seriously. It takes a lot of effort.

While I was lucky enough to visit most of DC’s monuments as a kid, I was curious to see if I would now leave with a different impression (both as a “local” and as an adult). I decided to test my theory on the recently re-opened Washington Monument.

The National Monument
The National Monument

It boasts the best views of any monument in the city, and so I made a sunset reservation. The Monument is a heavily trafficked area so I strongly recommend tickets. It’s really unlikely you will get there in time for the small batch of free tickets.

As everyone knows, the Washington Monument was built to honor our first President, George Washington. Most people also remember that in 2011, there was a  5.8 earthquake on the East Coast that spun out a series of humorous Internet gifs.  Still, the relatively short-lived quake did in fact cause significant damage to both the Washington Monument and National Cathedral.

Who says Washingtonian's don't have a sense of humor? Post 2011 earthquake gifs.
Who says Washingtonian’s don’t have a sense of humor? Post 2011 earthquake gifs. Image courtesy of brothatech.com

Recently, the Monument reopened so it was the perfect time for a visit. A few interesting stats about the monument:

  • It stands 555 feet and 5 1/8 inches, making it the worlds largest free-standing stone structure
  • In 1884, when it was completed, it was the world’s tallest man-made structure, until the Eiffel Tower
  • It contains 36,000 stones and weights 81,000 tons (or, the equivalent of almost 6,500 school buses)
  • It’s not your eyes playing a trick on you, the stone changes color at 150 feet

After a 70-second elevator ride (the first steam-powered elevator ride took 12 minutes), you reach the triangular pyradmidion and are treated to sweeping views of Washington DC. While I thought I timed our visit to sunset, I was off by about 15 minutes. Nevertheless, we were still in awe of the Mall. And Washington, DC (as well as the northern VA skyline), I have to admit are quite beautiful.

A view of the National Mall from the top of the Washington Monument
A view of the National Mall from the top of the Washington Monument

Now, this next observation will make me sound like a travel snob but I guess, if the shoe fits… The Monument is beautiful, but after seeing Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia and Casa Mila, it was just a bit underwhelming. I mean, it’s an obelisk.

It’s possible that part of my travel snob comment, is that we took an elevator to the top. You miss so much that I remember being impressed with by walking up the Monument. Unfortunately, the stairs are still closed to guests. But I do have a bit of scoop. I learned that the U.S. Park Service will open stairs for walk-up tours in early September! So, I’ll be going back. If you’re thinking of visiting, or a native who’s interested in walking the monument, check back for details. They’re only doing two walk-up tours (that amount to 896 steps) a day. So this will fill up fast!

Travel snob opinion aside, but if you are visiting Washington (or even if you live here), it’s well worth popping by. It’s an American experience. You can purchase tickets. It’s really unlikely you will get there in time for the small batch of free tickets. (note: the actual tickets are free but you do have to pay a small reservation fee. Ours was $3.00 plus a processing fee and shipping and handling). It was worth it. And as far as time, we were in and out in about a half hour. So if you time it well, it’s a great one to knock off your list, and then go on to the WWII Memorial and other sights on the National Mall.

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Author: Judi Kennedy

Wanderlust. A professional aunt, fitness enthusiast, dog owner and avid reader the rest of the time.

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