as soon as upon a time, you might walk all 898 steps to the top of the Washington Monument. However no longer. Health concerns led the national Park organization to close the stairs totally in 1976. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

earlier in the day, my best friend and I offered to drive the Greyhound downtown and also go come the Washington Monument. We in reality climbed come the top and climbed ago down. I recognize that it is no longer possible to carry out this. Why did this change? It offered to be a fun thing to do. And every third or fourth landing had actually a resting bench. Have the right to nobody store up anymore?

Ann valve Aken, Fairfax

Have you not heard, Ann? Today’s obese, out-of-shape Americans can barely climb into their SUVs without passing out from overexertion. Can you imagine what would take place if they tried to climb the 898 steps it take away to obtain to the height of the Washington Monument?

In fact, the was involves over wellness that ended routine accessibility to the obelisk’s stairs. And that was method back in the 1970s, prior to we’d all blimped up. A worrying variety of people were experiencing heart attacks during the climb or injuring us in falls during the descent.

According to the national Park Service’s Mike Litterst, the actions of the Washington Monument were closed for walking increase in 1971, and also then closed completely — up and also down — in 1976.

There were occasional exceptions, such as special ranger-led tours the took visitors previous the 190 sculpted memorial stones within the shaft. (Those tours quit after the 2011 earthquake; the Park service is hope they may ultimately resume.)

Mike claimed he began working in ~ the monument in the summer that 1983. The “closure was still recent enough that many, numerous visitors remembered when they to be open and also asked about it,” he wrote me in one e-mail.

The Washington Monument opened to the public in 1888. The 1893 Rand, mcnally travel overview to Washington noted: “A staircase that 900 steps wends its means to the top, roughly an interior shaft of steel pillars, in i m sorry the elevator runs; few people walk up, but many world descend that way.”

The very first elevator — steam-powered — took seven minutes come ascend. In 1909, the superintendent of publicly buildings detailed that about 1 in 10 civilization visiting the monument desired to walk up, despite the percent varied through month.

He uncovered it curious the a greater percentage of people climbed up during August than during April.

Perhaps that was since of the coolness of the marble monument’s interior. According to a Washington Post article headlined “Cool spot on hot Day,” published Aug. 4, 1901: “Not a torrid work passes yet dozens the people, including, frequently, whole families, camp out on the monument stairway or in those green benches roughly the elevator base exclusively for the function of gaining cool and keeping cool. Together a ascendancy they lug their lunches.”

The story quoted a watchman: “If they don’t make too much of a mess with throwing papers and also stuff approximately we permit them eat in here.”

Such were the days before air conditioning.

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In 1939, the portion of human being preferring to climb to the top had dropped a statistically trivial one point, come 9 percent.

Some world had come climb, even if it is they want to or not. In January 1959, the elevator to be shut down for repairs, forcing men working ~ above the device at the height to hoof it. “It’s 898 steps to the top. I have counted each and every one of them,” Ralph Johnson, foreman because that the Otis Elevator Co., called The Post.

It was approximated that the long climb was identical to 46 stories. Lock positioned one armchair at the 250-foot level. “Anyone who renders it that far deserves come sit down and also rest,” claimed mechanic E.L. White.

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The pilgrimage took about 20 minutes up to the top and 10 minutes down. The ironworkers, carpenters and also electricians functioning on the renovation usually took your lunch up through them so they wouldn’t need to do it twice.

Among the workers, a 23-year-old called Jerry Zettle was the quickest. The made the round pilgrimage in 18 minutes — 11 up and also seven down — sent out on an errand by his boss.