George Washington was born 279 years ago today, and for the past 126 years our city’s skyline has been dominated by a tribute to him. The Washington Monument is an iconic piece of architecture, but there are so many myths and legends about it that it could be one of the most misunderstood monuments in the city. Here’s a collection of our five favorite myths about the Washington Monument.
1. There’s a law in Washington DC that states that nothing can be taller than the Washington Monument. There is absolutely no truth to this. The 1910 height limit is related to the width of the street that a building fronts on and has nothing to do with the Washington Monument (though back in 1899 the height limit was based on the height of the Capitol building). But the Washington Monument never factored into the height limit. That being said, at 555 feet, it is still the tallest structure in Washington– but not the highest point. That title goes to the National Cathedral, which is 676 feet above sea level (even though it’s only 301 feet tall) because it sits on a hill.
2. The Washington Monument lies directly on axis with the Capitol and White House. This one is also not true. Because of some issues with ground stability underneath the extremely heavy Washington Monument, it had to be moved, and it sits about 300 feet off axis from the White House. And even though I know the reasoning, this still bothers me when I look at aerial images of the city. I wonder if it bothers the Obama family when they look out the window?
3. As made famous in The Lost Symbol, there’s a bible buried beneath the Washington Monument. We looked into this one last year and found that it was true. But the bible is just one of dozens of items buried beneath the monument– it was effectively a time capsule, featuring several atlases and reference books, multiple guides to Washington DC and the Capitol, Census records from 1790 to 1848, various poetry, the Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence.
4. Why does it look like it’s two different colors? It’s not because of some great flood, it’s because the Civil War caused some project delays. There was an eighteen year gap in construction, and by the time the project got back on track, the stone from the original quarry was no longer available.
5. It’s still the tallest all-stone structure in the world. This one’s true. It also remains the tallest obelisk in the world. In fact, for five years it held the record as the world’s tallest structure, but it was surpassed by the Eiffel Tower in 1889.