How The Washington Monument Was Nearly Destroyed

In regard to iconic backdrops and architectural marvels, few buildings rival the Washington Monument. The oddly shaped spectacle nestled into the United States capital landscape is a tower of stone. Standing erect at precisely 554 feet and 7 inches, it maintains the title of tallest masonry structure in the world (via Britannica). At the height of its fame, the building was actually the tallest human-made structure on Earth, but was swiftly beaten out by the Eiffel Tower just five short years after construction.

The District reports that during a regular year (the COVID crisis not withstanding) upward of 800,000 people flock to Washington, D.C., to gape at the monument's massive interior. They line the streets to climb the spiraling iron stairs and catch a glimpse from the top. From its observation deck, onlookers can capture a bird's eye view of the area that stretches across the horizon at least 25 miles in any given direction (via Washington DC).

Even if you haven't seen the national monument in person, it's likely you've seen it on screen. Its silhouette has appeared in just about everything, from gritty dramas to gripping speeches to edgy comedies. However, the fact that the Washington Monument was nearly destroyed on multiple occasions is something you just might know nothing about.

A political party attempted to destroy the monument

Even as plans for construction were being discussed, there was a particularly influential movement aimed at sabotaging the Washington Monument (via Mental Floss). This group chose to call themselves the Know-Nothings, which could explain why most modern people know nothing about them. Their track record for destruction is rather lengthy. In their initial attempt to halt the building's construction, they threw stones from the Roman Temple of Concord into the shimmering Potomac River. Those stones were intended to line the walls of the looming stone structure being erected to honor President George Washington.

When that didn't work, the rock-throwing, anti-Catholic brigade successfully hijacked the National Washington Monument Society and drained all of its funds. This action led to decades of delayed construction, wherein the monument simply stood in the nation's capital as a half-built eyesore. TheĀ National Park Service reports that during this time, it was "doing more to embarrass the nation than to honor its most important Founding Father."

From political disaster to natural disaster

Mental Floss reports that if you look closely enough, you will notice that the stone in the building is two different tones. When construction finally commenced, the architects were forced to take their construction materials from another quarry. Hence, the Know-Nothing Party might not have successfully destroyed the attraction, but they certainly left their mark.

After getting off to a rather rocky start, the Washington Monument stood relatively undisturbed for more than 100 years.

As fate would have it, in 2011, a 5.8-magnitude earthquake would ravage the cityscape, once again threatening the Washington Monument's destruction. During the powerful earthquake, the building sustained significant damage. It was shut down for two and a half years while laborers scaled the massive structure to perform $15 million worth of repairs (via The Washington Post). Today, it is open for public perusal thanks to 2.7 miles of new sealant having been meticulously applied between each stone. It's notable to mention here that those stones were initially held together by nothing aside from gravity. This is something to consider, particularly if you visited the Washington Monument prior to 2011.