The Washington Monument is the iconic structure of the city of Washington DC and I have been photographing it since 1999 when I first got serious about photography. Yet despite the numerous images I’ve made of it in the 15 years since then, I am somewhat embarrassed to say that I never made it to the top during that time. But even though I do have a few excuses—such as an earthquake—it serves no purpose to bore you with a recitation of them. Instead, I have seen the error of my ways and I fully intend to be up there as soon as possible when it re-opens next month. Details about the re-opening are below, but first a few highlights from the past 15 years are in order, not necessarily in a chronological order.
The Washington Monument originally was designed to be 600 feet tall and located at the intersection of a north-south line from the White House and an east-west line from the Capitol Building. In fact, neither happened. The ground was too soft at the intersection point so the site was moved about 500 feet to the east. Then funds ran short and construction was halted from 1854 until 1877.
Dawn, Summer Solstice, 2006
When construction resumed, a reconsideration of the height led to the adoption of the 10:1 height-to-base ratio of all Egyptian obelisks. The base was already about 55 feet so the height was changed to 555 feet.
Twilight, February 2002
The east-west axis from the Capitol to the Washington Monument was extended further west in 1922 with the opening of the Lincoln Memorial, following the vision of the 1902 McMillan Plan for the National Mall. As shown in the image above, the Lincoln Memorial is centered on that axis with the opening facing toward the east. The Capitol Building is at the eastern terminus of the axis beyond the Washington Monument.
When the Monument was completed in 1888, it became the world’s tallest structure, a title it held until 1889 when the Eiffel Tower was completed in Paris. However, it remains the world’s tallest stone structure and is the tallest building in Washington, DC.
Approaching Storm, March 2013
Over the years, the Monument has provided local photographers as an incredible backdrop for almost any occasion including the Kite Festival, the July 4 fireworks and the occasional lunar eclipse.
Lunar Eclipse, Winter Solstice, 2010
The Monument has been under scaffolding twice during the past 15 years. The first was for an extensive renovation from 1998 to 2000. And unlike virtually all construction projects in the US, there was a concerted effort to make the scaffolding itself an attractive feature. The special illumination at night totally changed the look of the mall at night. A similar approach was followed with the most recent repair project, necessitated by the Virginia earthquake in August 2011. (Below left: October 24, 1999; Below right: October 5, 2013)
But now the scaffolding is down and the structure soon again will be open for visitors. According to the National Park Service, the scheduled date for the opening is May 12th, and tickets can be made either in person at the Washington Monument Lodge on 15th Street or online in advance. Details can be found at the NPS website for the Monument. There is a small fee for the online service.
I may not get a great picture when I get up there next month, but it won’t be because I didn’t get to the top.