when upon a time, you could walk all 898 actions to the optimal of the Washington Monument. Yet no longer. Health concerns led the national Park company to close the stairs completely in 1976. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
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ago in the day, my finest friend and also I supplied to drive the Greyhound downtown and go come the Washington Monument. We actually climbed to the top and also climbed earlier down. I know that the is no longer possible to do this. Why did this change? It offered to be a fun thing to do. And every third or 4th landing had actually a relaxing bench. Have the right to nobody store up anymore?

Ann van Aken, Fairfax

Have you no heard, Ann? Today’s obese, out-of-shape Americans have the right to barely climb into their SUVs without passing the end from overexertion. Can you imagine what would occur if castle tried to climb the 898 measures it takes to obtain to the peak of the Washington Monument?

In fact, that was involves over health that ended routine accessibility to the obelisk’s stairs. And also that was method back in the 1970s, prior to we’d every blimped up. A worrying variety of people were enduring heart attacks during the rise or injuring us in falls throughout the descent.


According come the nationwide Park Service’s Mike Litterst, the actions of the Washington Monument to be closed because that walking up in 1971, and then closed completely — up and also down — in 1976.

There were occasional exceptions, such as unique ranger-led tours that took visitors previous the 190 sculpted memorial stones inside the shaft. (Those tours quit after the 2011 earthquake; the Park business is hoping they may ultimately resume.)

Mike said he began working in ~ the monument in the summer the 1983. The “closure was still recent enough that many, many visitors remembered once they were open and also asked about it,” he created me in one e-mail.

The Washington Monument opened to the general public in 1888. The 1893 Rand, mcnally travel overview to Washington noted: “A staircase that 900 measures wends its way to the top, around an interior shaft of stole pillars, in i beg your pardon the elevator runs; couple of people go up, but many human being descend that way.”

The first elevator — steam-powered — took 7 minutes to ascend. In 1909, the superintendent of publicly buildings noted that around 1 in 10 world visiting the monument desired to go up, despite the portion varied by month.

He uncovered it curious that a higher percentage of people climbed up throughout August than throughout April.

Perhaps the was since of the coolness the the marble monument’s interior. According to a Washington Post post headlined “Cool spot on hot Day,” published Aug. 4, 1901: “Not a torrid work passes yet dozens the people, including, frequently, whole families, camp the end on the monument stairway or in those eco-friendly benches around the elevator base exclusively for the function of acquiring cool and keeping cool. Together a rule they lug their lunches.”


The story quoted a watchman: “If they don’t do too much of a mess v throwing papers and also stuff about we allow them eat in here.”

Such to be the days before air conditioning.

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In 1939, the portion of civilization preferring to rise to the top had actually dropped a statistically trivial one point, to 9 percent.

Some civilization had to climb, whether they wanted to or not. In January 1959, the elevator was shut down for repairs, forcing males working ~ above the mechanism at the optimal to hoof it. “It’s 898 measures to the top. I’ve counted each and also every among them,” Ralph Johnson, foreman because that the Otis Elevator Co., told The Post.

It was approximated that the long climb was tantamount to 46 stories. Lock positioned one armchair in ~ the 250-foot level. “Anyone who makes it that much deserves come sit down and also rest,” claimed mechanic E.L. White.

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The pilgrimage took around 20 minutes as much as the top and 10 minutes down. The ironworkers, carpenters and electricians functioning on the renovation normally took their lunch up through them therefore they wouldn’t need to do that twice.

Among the workers, a 23-year-old called Jerry Zettle was the quickest. The made the round pilgrimage in 18 minute — 11 up and also seven under — sent on an errand by his boss.