Washington Monument: Stories And Facts You Didn't Know About America's Most Underrated Landmark

By | February 17, 2020

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The first monument to George Washington was reminiscent of ancient Greece. (blinds.kent.ca)

On February 21, 1885, President Chester Arthur (remember him?) unveiled the Washington Monument. The iconic structure is now visited by more than 800,000 tourists each year and appears in just about every movie and TV show set in Washington, D.C., but how much do you know about the towering obelisk that was built to honor our first president? Did you know, for example, this it originally looked like that beefcake up there? Let's look at some of the things you didn't know about America's most underrated landmark. 

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The Washington Monument at dusk. (Photo by Liu Jie/Xinhua via Getty Images)

Before the Obelisk, There Was A Shirtless Statue Of President Washington

A few decades before work started on the Washington Monument that we see today, the only monument to George Washington in the nation's capital was a giant, shirtless statue of America's first president looking like a Greek god. The statue was commissioned by Congress and sculpted by Horatio Greenough, and the plan was to display the monument in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building. Greenough's creation was modeled after the ancient Statue of Zeus at Olympia, a now-destroyed statue that was named one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Titled Enthroning Washington, the immodest statue created a stir when it was unveiled in 1832. Almost immediately, a group of concerned citizens who found the sight of the father of our country so scantily clad unsettling and kind of weird got together to pursue the construction of a new monument. Don't worry: You can still see Magic George if that's what you're into. It was moved to the Smithsonian Castle in 1908 and then to the National Museum of American History in 1964, where it's currently on display.