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Brief History of Elevator Fails at the Washington Monument

If there’s one place where going up and down really matters...

Photograph by soomness via flickr.

The history of the Washington Monument’s elevator is proof that what goes up…might get stuck halfway down.

October 9, 1888

A steam-powered lift starts ferrying passengers. It takes about ten minutes to reach the top—a figure cut in half three years later when it’s replaced by an electric version.

August 7, 1949

After a suicide—not the first such death at the monument—safety screens are installed at the top of the elevator shaft.

August 23, 2011

A 5.8-magnitude earthquake hits Washington, damaging the elevator. The monument is closed to visitors for nearly three years.

May 12, 2014

It finally reopens. Then two days later, the lift goes kaput. Over the next two years, it’s on the fritz another 24 times.

August 17, 2016

A cable snaps, leaving tourists stranded. It’s the third elevator snafu in a week. The monument shuts for three years of repairs.

September 19, 2019

It’s back! But two days later—yes, just like in 2014—the elevator acts up yet again. Visitors are stranded for an hour.

November 20, 2019

Faulty sensors shut the elevator for the second time in a week. Will things never start to look up?

This article appears in the January 2020 issue of Washingtonian.

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Daniella Byck

Daniella joined Washingtonian in August 2018. She is a University of Wisconsin-Madison grad and lives in Logan Circle.