Conceived soon after the American Revolution ended, the great monument to George Washington was not finally completed until almost a century later; the great obelisk was finished in 1884, and remains the tallest stone structure in the world at 555 feet.Read more...
Conceived soon after the American Revolution ended, the great monument to George Washington was not finally completed until almost a century later; the great obelisk was finished in 1884, and remains the tallest stone structure in the world at 555 feet. The story behind its construction is a largely untold and intriguing piece of American history, which acclaimed historian John Steele Gordon relates with verve, connecting it to the colorful saga of the ancient obelisks of Egypt.
Nobody knows how many obelisks were crafted in ancient Egypt, or even exactly how they were created and erected since they are made out of hard granite and few known tools of the time were strong enough to work granite. Generally placed in pairs at the entrances to temples, they have in modern times been ingeniously transported around the world to Istanbul, Paris, London, New York, and many other locations. Their stories illuminate that of the Washington Monument, once again open to the public following earthquake damage, and offer a new appreciation for perhaps the most iconic memorial in the country.
- ISBN-13: 9781620406502
- ISBN-10: 1620406500
- Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
- Publish Date: February 2016
- Page Count: 224
Remembering George Washington
Of all the weird twists in the 40-year drama of building the Washington Monument, perhaps the oddest was in 1855, when a band of rebels staged a coup and seized the project, largely because the board overseeing the construction had accepted a commemorative stone from Pope Pius IX. The Know-Nothing Party faction didn’t give back the monument until 1858.
Of course, the “monument” was then a 153-foot stump, decades from completion. As John Steele Gordon shows in his enjoyable Washington’s Monument, a history of the memorial specifically and obelisks more generally, dysfunction is not a modern phenomenon. Officials dithered over a suitable honor for George Washington from 1783, when Congress first passed a resolution, to 1888, when the obelisk-shaped tower, by then its full 555 feet, officially opened. The pattern: initial community enthusiasm, declining interest, failed fundraising, government bailout.
Gordon calls it “obelisk-shaped” because a real obelisk is by definition a monolith, carved from a single piece of stone. Obelisks were first erected—probably—by the ancient Egyptians, to stand in pairs outside temple entrances. There are still plenty of them around, and Gordon interweaves their stories with that of our monument.
The heroes of Gordon’s book are the engineers who figured out how to move the ancient obelisks and build the Washington Monument. Each project presented a huge logistical challenge, overcome by technical innovation. These were astounding feats, forever capturing the public imagination: Some 600,000 people visit the Washington Monument annually.