Washington Monument Receives Much-Needed Repairs

Nearly two years ago, a freak earthquake rocked the Washington, D.C., area and damaged more than 500 stone slabs on the Washington Monument. Now, the monument is covered in scaffolding, and crews are getting to work on one, huge caulking job.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The National Mall might be known as America's front yard, but it's always something of a work in progress: buildings undergo facelifts, grass is patched and restored and millions of people continue to troop through, snapping photos. And now one of the biggest attractions is being covered up for repairs. NPR's Christopher Connelly has this report.

CHRISTOPHER CONNELLY, BYLINE: About a dozen times a week, Lee Robinson leads troops of tourists around the National Mall on Segways. He shows today's group - just me and a couple from Nebraska - how to drive them.

LEE ROBINSON: So, to get on it, you just put both hands on the handlebars and step up nice and easy one foot at a time.

CONNELLY: Once we're all steady, we set off.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEGWAYS ROLLING)

CONNELLY: Gliding past throngs of school kids in matching T-shirts.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Pay attention.

CONNELLY: Across the Mall past the Air and Space Museum to the Capitol, and down Pennsylvania Avenue.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEGWAYS ROLLING)

CONNELLY: We stop along the way to take pictures: the White House and the Lincoln Memorial are big hits. But it all leads up to the iconic obelisk at the center of the Mall: the Washington Monument. That's what every tourist comes to see, but these days when they get there, it's not exactly what they expect.

ROBINSON: It's almost always the first question when I get the National Mall, they say why is the scaffolding up on the Washington Monument?

CONNELLY: That's because nearly two years ago, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake shook the capital. Afterward, the Parks Service closed the monument. They hired a crew to repel down the top and inspect it for damage. At 555 feet, the monument is still the tallest stone and mortar structure in the world, and it didn't handle the tremor well. It took most of the last four months just to build the scaffolding so workers could start repairs. And now, the monument's austere marble facade is obscured by an intricate metal cage. Now that that part's done, James Perry, from the National Park Service, says fixing the actual cracks is pretty basic masonry work.

JAMES PERRY: They use a technique called Dutchman, which is when they might cut a small piece of the stone out and replace it with similar stone.

CONNELLY: To make it more attractive while the repairs get done, they're covering the scaffolding with a decorative mesh. And next, they'll add lights to complete the look. Cathy Martin is visiting from Princeton, New Jersey. Standing in front of the monument, I asked her what she thought about it.

CATHY MARTIN: Well, I wish it was open but it's cool to see the scaffolding. And hopefully it'll be fixed soon.

CONNELLY: It is something you wanted to go up inside when you came?

MARTIN: Yeah. Well, we knew we couldn't, but, yeah, we would have loved to have the opportunity, but...

CONNELLY: But she'll have to wait a year. The monument won't be reopened to tourists until next spring. Christopher Connelly, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: This is NPR News.

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