- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 23, 2002

Six hundred visitors from around the country weathered blustery winds and waited in long lines to be among the first to ride to the top of the 555-foot Washington Monument, which reopened yesterday after nearly 18 months of renovations.
For many in the crowd, there was no better day to celebrate the official reopening of the monument than on the 270th birthday of George Washington.
"I think it's really cool," said Maddie Benner, a sixth-grader who attends Fulton Middle School in Heath, Ohio.
Maddie, 11, and 62 of her classmates made their annual class trip to the nation's capital this week. The Fulton Middle School students were the first to gain entry into the monument.
"I think it's going to be fun riding on an elevator 555 feet above the ground that's going to be cool since we're the first school group to go up," said Maddie's classmate, Samantha Adcock, 12.
Dennis Benner, Maddie's dad and a gym teacher at the middle school, said the group got their tickets yesterday. But many others weren't so lucky. All the tickets for the grand reopening were gone by early yesterday afternoon.
"After September 11th, it's good to see all of the monuments reopened. We toured the White House this morning. This is our sixth year here with the sixth-graders, and they'll be able to visit the places we would like the students to see," Mr. Benner said.
Mr. Benner beamed at the prospect of the elevator ride up to the top of the monument.
"I love heights, and I can't wait to see the view," he said.
For $10.5 million, the view from the top should be breathtaking. The restoration of the Washington Monument started in 1998. The final phase of the renovations included the installation of a new elevator cab with interior windows that look out on 193 commemorative stones embedded on the inside walls of the monument.
"[The elevator] takes 70 seconds from the ground to the 500-foot level," said U.S. Park Service Ranger Lance Hatten. Educational exhibits and historical views of Washington, D.C., were added at the top, he said.
Andrea Dickerson, 8, a second-grader at Bowen Elementary School in Southwest, wasn't concerned about the cost.
"You got to see the whole city, and you can see the president's house," she said.
Classmate Attalah Shabazz, 7, said she was a little concerned during the ride up.
"It was scary at first because the elevator was shaking a little bit. But, when we reached the top, I saw a lot of things I saw buildings and cars that looked like ants. But so did people," the second-grader said.
Jonathan "J.D." Duff, 12, was one of those who couldn't get a ticket yesterday. He had come to the District for a day of sightseeing with his dad, Daryl Duff; his brother, Josiah, 10; his sister, Bethany, 7; and a neighbor, Ricky Robinson, 13, all of Fort Belvoir, Va.
"I'm glad we're here for the historic reopening of the Washington Monument, but I'm sad since we're not going in today," he said.


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