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Is the Washington Monument Really Leaning?

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Is the Washington Monument Really Leaning?
Washington Monument

The National Park Service closed the Washington Monument to tourists in August 2011 after a magnitude 5.8 earthquake cause this 4-foot-long crack in the peak of the structure.

National Park Service

The Washington Monument was closed to tourists in the summer of 2011 following a rare East Coast earthquake. But despite media reports and lots of rumors, it wasn't because the the temblor caused the popular National Park Service attraction to tilt to one side like Italy's famous Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Here's why the Washington Monument was really closed.

It was because the Washington Monument sustained a 4-foot-long crack at its peak because of the magnitude 5.8 earthquake, which was centered less than 100 miles southwest in Mineral, Va., the government said. The new crack in the Washington Monument was an inch wide at some points.

"The National Park Service has engaged an engineering firm with extensive experience in earthquake damage assessment and repair to further assess the monument after an inspection ... uncovered additional cracks in the pyramidion, or uppermost section of the structure," the agency said in a prepared statement following the earthquake.

Washington Monument Reportedly Leaning

Shortly following the Aug. 23, 2011, earthquake, a Fox News anchor said the network had received information from authorities indicating the Washington Monument had been knocked slightly off-kilter.

"One extraordinary comment from this D.C. police officer to our producer - and this is just a one-liner, but he told our producer that they are concerned that the Washington Monument may be tilting," the anchor said shortly after the 1:51 earthequake. "They are concerned that the Washington Monument may be tilting. That's all I have."

The report spread quickly across social media, and was soon exposed as inaccurate and was widely ridiculed. Some suggested that if the Washington Monument were actually tilting, it was probably to the left because of the nation's Democratic presidents including Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

Others suggested that if the report were true, the Washington Monument would join lots of other crooked things in Washington.

Cracks But No Tilting

At the same time the myth of the Washington Monument tilting spread across the media, other inaccurate assessments were being made as well.

The Associated Press quoted Park Service officials as saying the earthquake caused "absolutely no damage" to the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial or other tourist destinations along the National Mall. And CNN reported that there were "some stones loose" at the Washington Monument.

The truth was discovered after engineers inspecting the Washington Monument by helicopter noticed new cracks in the pyramidion. All of the memorials and monuments on the National Mall were evacuated immediately following the earthquake. Only the Washington Monument remained shuttered to tourists for an indefinite amount of time.

Previous Cracks in Washington Monument

The 555-foot-tall, $1.8 million Washington Monument has sustained other damage, including previous cracks running three-quarters up one of its sides, since it was opened to the public in 1888. Water seeped into those cracks in the stone and froze, causing the cracks to worsen.

Several restoration projects have taken place over the years. Among the largest, begun in 1996, the Park Service cleaned the Washington Monument and sealed some 500 feet of cracks in the stone from the inside and out. It also repaired lights and walkways and fixed 1,000 square feet of chipped and patched stone during the $5 million restoration, which was completed in 2000.

The walls of the monument range in thickness from 15 feet at the base to 18 inches at the upper shaft, according to the Park Service. They are composed primarily of white marble blocks from Maryland with a few from Massachusetts, underlain by Maryland blue gneiss and Maine granite.

The Washington Monument weighs in at more than 82,000 tons.

In other words, it would take more than a moderate earthquake to knock it off-center.

No matter which party controls the White House.

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