WASHINGTON (AP) — A cross section of Americans awakened early and waited in line for hours to be among the first to ride to the top of the Washington Monument, open to the public Monday for the first time in nearly three years after an earthquake chipped and cracked the towering symbol.
The 130-year-old, 555-foot-tall obelisk was built in honor of the nation's first president between 1848 and 1884 and briefly reigned as the world's tallest structure until it was eclipsed by the Eiffel Tower.
Engineers have spent nearly 1,000 days making repairs stone by stone. Now new exhibits have been installed, and the National Park Service is offering extended hours to visitors through the summer.
For the hundreds of visitors, the trip to the top of the tallest structure in Washington is brief: It's a 70-second ride to the top, and a more leisurely two minutes, 45 seconds back down. The massive monument's meaning is much more lasting for Marc Tanner.
"I just love American history, I love traveling to see American history, and this is it. You can't get more historic than this," said Tanner, of Boca Raton, Florida, who was one of the first to visit the top.
"I used to be a stock broker; I went through 9/11 as a broker, and ... it stands alone in the United States to represent freedom for me."
Ferrell Armstrong, 74, of Kinmundy, Illinois, and his wife, Connie, 70, visited with their son and were determined to be among the first visitors when he promised the family a stop in D.C. after he underwent treatments for cancer — now in remission — in Virginia. A tear formed in his eye after they came down from the top.
"It's just immaculate. It's just great that people that far back thought about building something this great that's still here," he said. "It symbolized to me a great man, George Washington."