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The Washington Monument and Laus Deo-I

THE PYRAMIDION

Even though hit directly by lightning, the Washington Monument recovered and is still the finest historical monument in Washington, D. C.  One of the outstanding engineering feats of this marvelous monument is the pyramidion which sits astride the top of the shaft from the 470-foot to the 500-foot levels.  Investigation revealed that only a small chip of marble had been dislodged in 1884, the damage being easily repaired.  

The pyramidion is 555 feet in height and weighs 300 tons or 627,000 pounds.  It was built entirely of fine-grained marble supplied by Hugh Sisson of Baltimore, Md., the same contractor who supplied all the marble used in the construction of the monument from the 150-foot level up.  The State of Maryland is as proud of its contribution to this outstanding monument of the world as it is of the Washington Monument at Mt. Vernon Square in Baltimore.  The marble for the pyramidion was quarried at the Beaver Dam Quarry in Baltimore County, Md., and was delivered to Washington by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, Maryland's own.  The marble was strong and durable and weighed 178-1/2 pounds per cubic foot.  It was the same marble that Robert Mills, the first architect and designer of the original plan for the Washington Monument, had tested at the Navy Yard under the aegis of the Secretary of the Interior in 1848 with such success.  It was the same marble that was used in the facing of the balance of the monument, including the original 150-foot level completed by the Washington Monument Society.  

Bernard R. Green, the noted civil engineer whom Casey had selected to supervise various engineering details of the project, had designed the pyramidion and was completely responsible for its successful construction.  The covering slabs of the pyramidion are of marble but seven inches in thickness.  Each of the slabs rests upon projections on the marble ribs.  There are 12 ribs, three upon each side of the well, that spring from the interior face of the wall at the 470-foot level.  The ribs are then carried upward until those nearest the angles of the shaft meet in the hips of the pyramidion, while those in the center of each face are connected still higher in the apex by voussoir stones or keystones, forming two arches intersecting each other at right angles.   The thrust of a corner rib is transmitted to its opposite by the use of horizontal stones between their upper extremities.  

Work began in June 1884 on the pyramidion by assembling materials and the machinery needed in its construction.  On October 29, 1884, the last piece of marble for this part of the structure was delivered by the contractor Sisson, and on November 21 it was dressed by the stone-cutters.  It took 30 days to set the marble of the pyramidion, the balance of the time since June 1884 being taken up in building and assembling the special machinery, platforms, and derricks required, and in dressing the marble.  At the end of the 1884 working season December 1, it was only necessary to fit the marble slabs then used as shutters to the eight openings for windows in the pyramidion for its completion.  

Colonel Casey reported in his Annual Report that this would take a few weeks.  The pyramidion consisted of 262 separate pieces of marble, containing 3,764 cubic feet of dressed stock.  In December 1884 the mammoth structure was lifted into place without incident and in one piece.

SETTING THE CAPSTONE

To complete the obelisk, the aluminum capstone weighing 100 ounces, the largest single piece of aluminum cast to that time, was placed atop the pyramidion on Saturday, December 6, 1884.  Colonel Casey was elated at meeting his deadline for completion of the Washington Monument.  

Prior to delivery of the capstone in Washington, it was placed on exhibit at Tiffany's in New York City where it was placed on the floor and persons could have the dubious prestige of "jumping over the top of the Washington Monument."   Engraved on the four sides of the capstone was the official record of the construction of the monument.  The west face read: "Corner Stone laid on bed of foundation, July 4, 1848.  First stone at height of 152 feet laid August 7, 1880.  Capstone set December 6, 1884"; and the east face read "LAUS DEO."  The north and south faces contained names of the commission and the key men in the work of completion.  

Although weather-beaten, the inscription is still visible.  And still celebrating the founding of our country by Almighty God.  Thanks to Dr. Ruth Kreiss, my sister-in-law, and to my daughter, Mrs. Doris Mathews for bringing this lovely bit of our history to our attention.

For reference: http://www.snopes.com/politics/religion/monument.asp

The Washington Monument's "pyramidion": http://www.nps.gov/wamo/history/contents.htm


Question: What Christian symbol was incorporated into the plan for our Capitol by the man who drew up those plans?  

For the next in this series see A Little History The Washington Monument and Laus Deo-II


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