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Adventures at the Washington Monument

This post is part 3 of our Wednesday Adventure Series. Each week we will highlight something different in the Washington, D.C., Metro Area, many of which will be options for part of your own BookCrossing Journey. With so many things to see and do, how will you choose?

The Washington Monument is perhaps the most recognizable structure in all of Washington, D.C. It appears on many postcards and souvenirs, dominates the skyline, and is visited by over 670,000 people each year. At 555 feet 5.5 inches (169.294 meters) tall, it is the world’s tallest stone structure and the world’s tallest obelisk. You may have even seen it destroyed in films such as Mars Attacks or 2012.

For all its modern fame, this monument to first US president George Washington almost wasn’t finished. Construction of the Monument began in 1848, but halted in 1854 due to political infighting and lack of funds. The nativist and anti-Catholic “Know-Nothing” Party took over the project in 1849, and though stones had been donated from numerous sources, one in particular caused quite a stir. The Know-Nothings objected to the block from Pope Pius IX and reportedly threw it into the Potomac. Congress rescinded further funding, and the missing “Pope Stone” was not replaced until 1983.

Though the Know-Nothings eventually gave up on the Monument, the Civil War and other funding issues kept construction on the Monument from continuing until 1876, after it had stood at less than one-third its proposed height for nearly two decades. You can still see a line about 150 feet up where the coloring of the stone changes.

The Monument was finally dedicated in 1885, when it was the tallest structure in the world. This title was short-lived, however, as it was bested by the Eiffel Tower by more than 500 feet in 1889. The 9-inch pyramid on the very tip of the capstone is made of solid aluminum, which was worth as much as silver in the 1880s. This tiny metal pyramid is nearly impossible to see from the ground, but one very visible addition near the top of the tower are flashing red lights to warn airplanes from flying too close.

Touring the Washington Monument is free, but tickets are required. Same-day tickets are issued on a first-come, first-served basis every morning starting at 8:30 AM. One person can reserve up to six tickets. If you reserve your ticket online ahead of time, there is a service fee of $1.50. Tours are available between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM, with the last tour beginning before 4:45 PM. If you plan to visit, keep in mind that food, drink, large bags, and strollers are not allowed, and there is no public restroom on site.

For those who collect National Park Service passport stamps, the nearby Washington Monument Bookstore has about twenty.

Though a tour of the Washington Monument is not specifically part of the schedule for the 2011 BookCrossing Convention, there will be plenty of time if you would like to visit it on your own. Daunted by the crowds? Do what the locals do: visit the Clock Tower at the Old Post Office, located at the corner of 12th St NW and Pennsylvania Ave NW. Standing at 315 feet and offering a 360-degree view, the only taller structure in sight is the Washington Monument itself. Tours are free and almost never crowded. As an added bonus, the pavilion houses a wide variety of restaurants and gift shops.

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