The lesson I learned from the Washington Monument
I have driven past the iconic Washington Monument numerous times. I have been up inside, walked it grounds during kite festivals and cherry blossom festivals alike. It like no other monument epitomizes what is wrong and what is right with Washington D.C.
When L'Enfant laid out the design for DC, he left a spot for a memorial to the founder of America, George Washington. In 1848, construction began on a six hundred foot tall Egyptian style obelisk that would be surrounded by thirty 100 ft columns. Funding and construction proved difficult. It became so difficult that all construction stopped by 1854 leaving a 154 ft tall stump. Now why would funding stop on something so important? Straight from the National Parks' web page: "In 1853, a new group aligned with the controversial Know-Nothing Party gained control of the Washington National Monument Society in the Society's periodic board election. Having always struggled to gather funding, the Society's change in administration alienated donors and drove the Society to bankruptcy by 1854"
Stop me if this sounds familiar to you. A group of "Know-Nothings" getting in the way of respecting the founding fathers. Fortunately after over two decades of the nation's capitol living in the shadow of this monument to obstructionism, Congress stepped up on July 5, 1876 and resumed construction of the obelisk. What they found when trying to make it whole and right was that certain opportunities had passed. The Baltimore stone quarry for the first 156ft was no longer available. Stone was brought in from Massachusetts but, the color was not a good match and so they ended with a second Baltimore quarry. When you look at the monument you can see the three stripes of stone.
Does having three different stones diminish the monument? Not to me. I see it as a monument to the inevitability of rational thought over "Know-Nothings" The stripes remind me daily that even after decades of inaction, Washington has the ability to make itself whole and right again.