The Washington Monument is Now Open to the Public

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After years of renovation works, the Washington Monument has reopened, much to the excitement of people who have long been waiting to enter its premises. A part of the funding for the last renovation came from a philanthropist and billionaire financier named David Rubenstein.

On September 20, 2019, the National Park Service disclosed that the exterior lighting of the obelisk would get a boost, which should make viewing it at night even more impressive.

The renovated elevator system and security facility are the new additions to the Washington Monument. Visitors will now be able to take the elevator to the observation deck, situated 500 feet above. From there, visitors can see landmarks including the Capitol Building, Washington National Cathedral, the Lincoln and the Jefferson memorials, and Ronald Reagan Airport.

First, they need to go through security, though. Visitors and their stuff will initially pass through some X-ray machines and its magnetometer, much like in airport security. Then, they will have to go through a metal door and to an interlock space, where they will wait until a heavy door opens, and they are allowed into its elevator boarding room.

Being inside its interlock room feels slightly similar to being held in a bank vault, but the room has a specific purpose.

“There’s no way that a coordinated effort could be made by a group of terrorists to come into the monument,” said Chief of Service for the National Park Service, Sean Kennealy. “Through those [observation deck] windows, you have a huge vantage point to do harm.”

He expects the screening procedure to take much longer than before.

A History of Construction Funded by Private Parties

The long history of both funding and construction issues is visible at the Washington Monument. The obelisk’s construction began in the year 1848, and it was funded by means of private donations to the Washington National Monument Society. However, by 1854, this society used up its funds, and construction stopped, although only one-third of the Washington Monument was completed.

Construction resumed in 1876, as Congress took over both funding and building. There was only an issue: The Maryland quarry which had previously supplied the stone for the work did not have any of it left. Therefore, the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) brought in stone for construction from Massachusetts, and then returned to stone from another quarry adjacent to Baltimore. The various colors are easily visible even today.

However, in terms of financing, the Washington Monument is no anomaly: the majority of national monuments in the District are funded privately and maintained by the Park Service.

CEO and President of the Trust for the National Mall, Catherine Townsend said, “Nearly every monument and memorial on the National Mall has been built by private philanthropy. People don’t really realize that. They think the government has paid for everything.”

Recently, Rubenstein took a private tour Washington DC monument. He said that he struggled to encourage other philanthropists to contribute to projects such as the Washington Monument renovation for that same reason. However, he said, donating brings him immense satisfaction, even when the monument will not be renamed in tribute to him anytime soon.

“The thanks of a country and your fellow citizens are probably enough,” said Rubenstein. “You don’t need to have your name on something. It’s OK.”

The view from the lookout window to the south of the recently renovated obelisk is quite amazing. During his visit, Rubenstein looked out of one such window at the Washington Monument and pointed out Washington DC’s other landmarks which have benefitted from this man’s generosity.

Referring to his previous funding activities, he said, “I get a lot of pleasure out of doing these things. And if I didn’t do them and I died with more money, would I be a happier person? I don’t think so.”

How to Visit the Washington Monument

At the moment, you should wake up early and arrive at the Monument site expecting to wait for a while. Those who wish to visit it before October 19, 2019, can obtain same-day admission tickets from its information center, situated right in front of this monument. National Park Service’s rangers expect queues to start forming at the site from about 06:00 am. They make this assumption based on their earlier experience. Tickets will be given on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Starting October 10, 2019, you can order free entry tickets online for a Washington Monument tour starting nine days later. The monument will usually operate from 09:00 am to 05:00 pm each day. It will be opening its doors to the public on all days of the year save December 25.

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