An iconic symbol. A priceless gift. A silent sentinel.
Call it what you will, but the Washington Monument's most important label on Monday was "open" after a three-year, post-earthquake repair effort.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis joined Park Service Superintendent Bob Vogel and a few hundred history fans at the southwest base of the 555-foot obelisk to cut the ribbon on the repaired D.C. landmark.
"We are thrilled to be able to once again open its doors," Mr. Vogel said from the stage, decorated in red, white and blue bunting. "It's been a really long road."
The more than century-old structure had been closed since August 2011, when a 5.8-magnitude earthquake shook most of the East Coast. Some of the monument's stones were cracked, mortar was shaken loose, and the elevator that hauls tourists to the observation deck was damaged.
For the first time since the quake, public tours were available Monday to ticket holders. While advance tickets are sold out for several weeks, same-day tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Vickie Jodrey, 50, of Cincinnati, said she and her husband had no idea they would be able to get same-day tickets, but they ended up in possession of two for a 5 p.m. tour.
"I'm so amazed," the medical assistant said. "Just the monument itself, you get that view above everything, and the history of it. It's kind of emotional."
Alexandria resident Seema Singh, 60, said she has lived in the area for seven years but had never gone to the top of the monument.
Sitting one of the marble benches that ring the base of the monument, she said she was saddened when she first heard about its closure. After three years of waiting, Ms. Singh said she had two tickets for the 4:30 p.m. tour with her husband.
"I like heights," she said. "I want to see how it looks."
Repairing and restoring the monument cost $15 million, half of which was paid by a federal grant and the other by philanthropist David M. Rubenstein.
"We knew the restoration would be a challenge," Mr. Jarvis said. "Reopening the Washington Monument was a huge task. Only ask one of the workers dangling off this structure."
Those workers were part of a crew of engineers who rappelled down the sheer faces of the monument, looking for damage stone by stone. The survey and a seismic study were just a few of the tests and treatments the monument received while shuttered for repairs.
"I have only one question," said Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's nonvoting member of Congress. "Is this thing earthquake-proof?
Officials said it is stronger than ever.
The most obvious repairs can be seen at the observation-deck level, where 52 "saddle anchors" were placed between the exterior stones on the slanted pyramidion near the top of the monument. Plates and bolts now join the angled stones that had been held in place by gravity before the quake.
Mr. Rubenstein called his donation "patriotic philanthropy.'
"It's a down payment on an obligation for what the country has done for me and my family," he said.
Ms. Jewell pointed out that the repairs were finished "on time and on budget."
She told the audience about the monument's history, from the early fundraising to the roughly 20 years during the Civil War where it stood partially complete. She said some critics suggested it would look like a stalk of asparagus as it was being finished.
"Like the country itself, the monument looked different than expected," she said. "In some way the monument itself reflects our journey as a nation."
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