A monumental bicentennial

227 steps are all that separate you on the ground from the top of Baltimore's Washington Monument. Go ahead. I hear the view is great.

227 steps are all that separate you on the ground from the top of Baltimore’s Washington Monument. Go ahead. I hear the view is great.

Four pocket-sized parks surround the Washington Monument in Baltimore's Mount Vernon neighborhood.

Four pocket-sized parks surround the Washington Monument in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood.

Two hundred years ago on July 4, 1815, proud Baltimoreans set the cornerstone for the new nation’s first public monument to George Washington.

A column of Cockeysville marble over brick with George overlooking Charm City, the monument has stood witness to decades of Baltimore history — not to mention years of Flower Marts and Baltimore Book Festivals which set up around the monument’s base. (This year’s Flower Mart was postponed until Sept. 11-12 and the book festival is Sept. 25-27.)

WashMonInterior

The interior of the Washington Monument is elegant but plain. Niches originally designed for sculpture were never filled — and still aren’t. The exception is the niche at the south door. Its sculpture of George Washington will be returned to its rightful place when all construction is finished.

A little worn from time and water that forced its closure in 2010, the grand monument has undergone a year-and-a-half of restoration to make it safe, make it more beautiful and bring its technology into the 21st Century.

I got a peek a few days before its grand rededication ceremony and festival and a stop is well worth it. How many times does a motorist race up Charles Street and wonder about the view from the top?  Or wonder what’s inside its broad base?

Go ahead. Enter this narrow portal and begin winding your way to the top of the monument. It's 227 to the top but only 20-some to the terrace level.

Go ahead. Enter this narrow portal and begin winding your way to the top of the monument. It’s 227 to the top but only 20-some to the terrace level.

The Mount Vernon Conservancy, which organized the monument’s restoration, has hired staff to lead tours and tell of the history of this place.

The monument will be open to visitors (beginning July 4) Thursdays 4-9 p.m. (when the nearby Walters Art Museum is also open), and Friday to Sunday noon to 9 p.m. Admission to the base galleries is free but it costs $5 to take to the stairs.

The terrace level offers lovely views of Mount Vernon Place's parks.

The terrace level offers lovely views of Mount Vernon Place’s parks.

I have to admit I didn’t make it to the top on my recent. And this was my second try. I attempted it about five years ago and both times only got halfway. It wasn’t the steps; it was the tight space. However, when my colleagues returned from their trip up, they were ecstatic about the view. (I’m going to try again; this time I’ll count steps so I know how much farther I have to go.)

I did make it to the lower tier, which is also open to the public. It’s only 20-plus steps. Easy to handle and a nice chance to look out on the leafy Mount Vernon parks.

Two touch screens in the base gallery offer all kinds of information about the history of the monument — with live cam views from the top. Good for those of us who prefer our feet on the ground.

Two touch screens in the base gallery offer all kinds of information about the history of the monument — with live cam views from the top. Good for those of us who prefer our feet on the ground.

The gallery has three 21st Century attractions. A large screen displays videos about the work of the conservancy, including the monument’s restoration. Two touch screens relate the history of the monument, with views of the city both historic and modern. Filled with good graphics and interesting details, they tell a good story. Best of all, they show what the view from the top is thanks to live cams placed in four directions. Brilliant.

Not glamorous, but you'll be happy these lights up the Washington Monument's steps are there to light your way.

Not glamorous, but you’ll be happy these lights up the Washington Monument’s steps are there to light your way.

Some of the changes not visible to guests will make a visit better anyway. These include improved lighting up the steps, new covers on the skylights, and electrical magic that will make stringing the holiday lights and lighting the column in Oriole orange or Raven purple an easier task.

George Washington is depicted in the 1829 sculpture by Henrico Causici, submitting his resignation as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in Annapolis in 1783.

George Washington is depicted in the 1829 sculpture by Henrico Causici, submitting his resignation as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in Annapolis in 1783. In short video below, the countdown to the monument’s reopening.

A visit to the monument won’t take long but it’s something every Baltimorean and visitor ought to see when they have a chance. There it is in the center of Baltimore’s beautiful Charles Street.

Go ahead, you know you want to. And at night, the view should be breathtaking. (If you go, send me a picture. I’d love to see how it looks.)

Ⓒ Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman

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