Maggie: Today, for the first time in three years, the Washington Monument is open to the public. As Tom Hanson tells us, it took a lot of hard work and a huge donation to get the landmark back open for business.
Tom: It is 100,000 tons of solid rock – the anchor of the nation’s capital, massive and unshakeable until 1:51pm on August 23, 2011. A 5.8 magnitude earthquake in nearby Virginia rocked the Washington Monument. Dozens of tourists were caught at the top. As the stones cracked and crumbled, the building held strong and everyone made it out safely. But the damage was severe, and most of it focused at the top.
Sally Jewell: There’s one little spot where the monument just shifted a little bit – you know, a half-inch or 5/8 of an inch as the whole thing above it just (cracked).
Tom: Park police immediately surveyed the monument by air and discovered multiple loose stones and cracks, one of them four feet long. They brought in engineers for a closer look. Their findings triggered a massive restoration project that lasted nearly three years.
Today, the debris is gone, cracks are filled, joints reinforced. But you can still see some of the damage.
The repairs were done with a sense of purpose. The monument is a powerful symbol of democracy. It has had a role in almost every historic event in Washington, from the struggle for civil rights to protests over the Vietnam War to the inauguration of Barack Obama.
Five hundred and fifty-five feet. That is fifty-five stories to the top. And once there, you can get a bird’s eye view of the nation’s capital.
Jon Jarvis: So, you can get an iconic view, whether it’s Arlington Cemetery or the White House or the Lincoln Memorial or the Capitol. So, it’s all of those views.
Tom: Views once again open to the public today. But restoring the monument wasn’t the easiest task. You can’t access the monument from any given floor. So crews had to build a special scaffolding complete with an elevator.
Jewell: We were up here on the scaffolding with the workers. They were learning along with the Park Service on what techniques would work to repair this. What could we do that wouldn’t damage the stone.
Tom: But the biggest challenge was the money. The Park Service needed help.
David Rubenstein: The federal government can’t really do what it used to be able to do.
Tom: Billionaire investor David Rubenstein donated $7.5 million – half of the project’s cost – to get the work done.
David Rubenstein: I try to call what I’ve done ‘a patriotic philanthropy,’ which is to say ‘try to give back to your country in any way you can’. And that’s part of what I’ve tried to do with the Washington Monument.
Tom: Tom Hanson, Channel One News.
Maggie: Wow! That is some view from the top! Now, the national monument is free to visit, and you can take an elevator up to that view, or be brave enough to climb all 897 steps!