Here’s What the Washington Monument Was Originally Supposed to Look Like

It’s not pretty.

National Journal
Emma Roller
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Emma Roller
May 12, 2014, 11:50 a.m.

The Wash­ing­ton Monu­ment is open to the pub­lic for the first time in nearly three years. The ob­elisk was closed for renov­a­tions after a 2011 earth­quake left it un­safe for pub­lic vis­its. More than 16,00 tick­ets have been re­served to tour the monu­ment since con­struc­tion crews fin­ished re­pair­ing the monu­ment’s cracked and dam­aged stones

But, if some 19th-cen­tury ar­chi­tects had had their way, the monu­ment would look a lot dif­fer­ent than it does today. Be­low are some ori­gin­al designs for the monu­ment. Some of them aren’t pretty.

Then again, maybe some people would prefer if our na­tion­al ob­elisk looked dif­fer­ent. As my col­league Bri­an Res­nick wrote last year, The New York Times ran a with­er­ing re­view of the monu­ment after it opened in 1886. “As a work of art the monu­ment is en­titled to neither more nor less con­sid­er­a­tion than a fact­ory chim­ney, the ugli­ness of which is pardoned only for the use­ful pur­pose which it sub­serves,” the au­thor wrote.

The ar­chi­tect Robert Mills de­signed what was ori­gin­ally sup­posed to be­come the monu­ment (seen at left, be­low) in 1846. No, the top of the ob­elisk isn’t cut off — that’s how it was sup­posed to look. The design also fea­tured a pan­theon at the monu­ment’s base. On the right is an al­tern­ate con­cep­tion for the monu­ment, de­signed by Henry R. Searle in 1877.

(Lib­rary of Con­gress)

Wil­li­am Wal­lace de­signed the monu­ment be­low left, which de­picts George Wash­ing­ton stand­ing atop a globe. At right, a Goth­ic re­viv­al-style monu­ment.

(Lib­rary of Con­gress)

Three more Goth­ic-type designs that were pro­posed for the monu­ment.

(Lib­rary of Con­gress)

A cer­ti­fic­ate giv­en to donors for the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­al Monu­ment So­ci­ety.

(Lib­rary of Con­gress)

Well, look at this squat fel­low, de­signed by Ben­jamin Henry Latrobe in 1799.

(Lib­rary of Con­gress)

And, apro­pos of noth­ing, here’s a car­toon of Uncle Sam bel­low­ing, “No more of these hideous monu­ments!” The il­lus­tra­tion was pub­lished in 1885, the year the monu­ment was of­fi­cially com­pleted.

(Lib­rary of Con­gress)

Really, though, can you blame him?

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