20 things you didn’t know about Washington DC monuments and memorials

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What presidential dog has his own statue? How many people have taken their own lives in the Washington Monument? Which famous DC monument was constructed in China?

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Everyone knows the basics about the big Washington DC monuments and attractions. Let’s dig a little deeper and uncover some of the quirky and little-known facts about these memorials.

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Which way to walk? So many possibilities…

 

1. The Washington Monument as it currently exists is actually a massive failure in comparison to the ambitious original design, which had called for a series of columns and statues of George Washington and 30 other figures from the Revolutionary War. Only the tower itself, composed of Maryland marble, was completed due to budgetary reasons.

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Thank goodness this sign was here, or I would never have found it.

 

2. Thinking of committing suicide at the Washington Monument? You’d best find another venue. Five people have killed themselves there by jumping out the windows or into the elevator shaft, but safety bars and gates were installed decades ago to prevent such tragedies.

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The Washington Monument’s not really so big.

 

3. When it was completed in 1884, the Washington Monument was the tallest structure in the world. It was soon passed by the Eiffel Tower, and numerous other buildings have eclipsed it since then. At 555 feet, the obelisk remains the tallest object in DC.

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Players in a kickball game aren’t distracted by the famous monuments all around.

 

4. You cannot currently visit the top of the Washington Monument. It’s still closed due to damage suffered during the Virginia earthquake of 2011 and may reopen in 2014.

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A gorgeous scenic view of the Washington Monument from the latest construction plot.

 

5. If you’re in the White House and need to answer nature’s call, I’m sorry to report that you only have a choice of 35 different bathrooms. As of 2013, the White House also features 6 levels, 412 doors, 147 windows, 28 fireplaces, 8 staircases, and 3 elevators.

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6. I’d hate to be the guy responsible for re-painting the outside of the White House. The task requires 570 gallons of paint to cover its exterior surface.

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7. Michelle Obama’s White House vegetable garden includes cauliflower, pac choi, artichoke, buttercrunch lettuce, mustard, broccoli, peppers and more. No, I don’t know what pac choi is, either. (See a complete report from my White House vegetable garden visit.)

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8. The World War II Memorial is one of DC’s newest, having opened in 2004. It contains a large fountain, columns with the names of each state and territory, and 4,048 gold stars, each one representing 100 American military deaths during the war.

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Entry to the WWII Memorial.

 

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The central fountain of the World War II Memorial.

 

9. The construction of the Capitol was the first reality competition show. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson (then Secretary of State) created a contest in which the winning architectural designer would get a whopping $500. They didn’t like any of the 17 submitted designs and ended up accepting a bid that came in after the deadline from a Scottish doctor named William Thornton.

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The Canadian embassy is really close to the Capitol. If hordes of angry maple leafers ever wanted to overthrow the U.S. government, they’d have an easy head start.

 

10. British troops set fire to the Capitol building in the War of 1812, but rain showers minimized the fire and the damage. Mother Nature was on America’s side, clearly. Repairs took four years.

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Reporting live from the Capitol…

 

11. The Korean War Veterans Memorial is one of the most unique, because it actually depicts 19 soldiers, seven feet tall and made of stainless steel. Members of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines are represented in their regular gear, while surrounded by bushes meant to recreate the terrain of Korea.

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Soldiers from the Korean War Memorial.

 

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12. Though today most people view the Vietnam Memorial as one of the most powerful monuments because of its simplicity – a solid black wall with names of those killed in action inscribed in white – many people hated the design when it was first released, with some calling the design “a scar” and “a garish wall of shame.”

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The powerful Vietnam Memorial.

 

13. A Lincoln Monument Association was created by Congress just two years after Abe was assassinated, but construction of the Lincoln Memorial did not begin until 1914. The 36 columns represent each of the states in the Union at the time of the Lincoln’s death.

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Five dollars in honor of Honest Abe.

 

14. Many people aren’t aware that the Lincoln Memorial is where Martin Luther King Jr. made his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.

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15. The remains of unknown soldiers from various conflicts are found at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery. The unknown Vietnam soldier is no longer unknown. In 1998, DNA testing confirmed the remains as those of Air Force member Michael Joseph Blassie, who was shot down in 1972. He was transferred to his family in St. Louis, and the unknown Vietnam tomb was left empty and re-inscribed in honor of all of America’s missing servicemen and women.

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View of the Jefferson Memorial.

 

16. The original statue of Thomas Jefferson in the Jefferson Memorial was made of plaster. Poor guy! That’s because metal was rationed during World War II. After the war, it was replaced with the 19-foot-tall bronze statue that stands today.

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17. The Martin Luther King Memorial, dedicated in 2011, is just the fourth memorial in the National Mall area dedicated to a non-president. In addition to the 30-foot-high granite likeness of Dr. King, the site includes a 450-foot granite wall inscribed with 14 of his famous quotes.

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18. Surprisingly, the MLK Memorial was made in China. Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin was in charge of the project and made King’s image out of 159 pieces of pink Chinese granite.

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19. The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial contains 21 of the president’s most famous quotes, including “I have seen war… I hate war,” “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” and “No country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources.”

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20. Along with two statues of Roosevelt himself, the FDR Memorial includes a bronze statue of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and even one with his dog, Fala. Lucky pooch – how many other dogs can boast that they were given an official U.S. government statue?

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About Scott Shetler

Scott is a Chicago-based journalist and blogger who seeks out quirky sights and awesome destinations throughout North America and beyond.

11 comments on “20 things you didn’t know about Washington DC monuments and memorials

  1. What fun facts! I liked the suicide info and unknown soldier revelation best. But it’s all fun, and your pictures are great! I really enjoyed this post.

  2. I just learned a fun fact about the Vietnam Wall. The wall is positioned to have a reflection of the Capitol building in the granite.

    Also there is a marker on the step of the Lincoln Memorial where Dr King gave his “I have a dream…” speech. The speech at the Lincoln Memorial was not the first time Dr. King gave that speech. He first gave it at a conference in Detroit.

  3. When you listed some of the vegetables in the White House garden, you listed pak choi. It’s not PAK choi, but bok choi.

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