Climbers Inspect the Washington Monument for Earthquake Damage

Posted on: September 28th, 2011 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

Written by Sarah Campbell

An inspector rappels down the pyramid atop the Washington Monument. (Photo: Sarah Campbell)

An inspector rappels down the pyramid atop the Washington Monument. (Photo: Sarah Campbell)

Under a cloud-riddled sky, more than five hundred feet above tourists, Park Rangers, and news crews, an engineer secures ropes and cables to the apex of the Washington Monument. It’s not a sight seen every day, but is one, weather-permitting, we’ll be seeing over the next week.

The engineering firm of Wiss, Janney, Estner Associates, Inc . will send four members of its Difficult Access Team to rappel down each side of the monument and inspect its exterior stones, which suffered damage in the August 23rd earthquake. The structure was built between 1848 and 1884.

“WJE has hired the best. The rated climbers are also architects and engineers; they know what they’re looking at,” said Carol Bradley Johnson, communications officer for the National Mall & Memorial Parks.

The Washington Monument has been closed to the public since the 5.8 magnitude earthquake. The timetable for reopening hinges upon assessments made by the firm, hired by the National Park Service to access structural damage left by the natural disaster. Though the monument already has been determined to be fundamentally sound, cracks in its marble exterior, loss of joint mortar, and other concerns must be examined before the tourist favorite can reopen.

Yesterday, representatives of the National Park Service - the federal agency responsible for the monument - along with National Trust for Historic Preservation President Stephanie Meeks, were interviewed by PBS NewsHour about the inspection process and the importance of maintaining our national icons. Meeks said:

I would hope that what comes out of this is just sort of a re-awareness on behalf of all Americans about these significant structures that we all sort of take for granted -- they're in our backyards here in Washington, D.C. -- the really important national monuments across the country, and remember that they are vulnerable to natural occurrences like this and that they need our very best care and support.

WJE anticipates releasing a report outlining costs and next steps in mid-October.

View additional photos of the inspection process on Flickr, and video on You Tube.

Sarah Campbell is an intern at Preservation magazine.

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