John Quincy Adams’ brief visit to Baltimore in 1827 is mostly remembered today for a heartfelt toast which inspired one of the city’s earliest monikers. Speaking to a group consisting mostly of veterans from the American Revolution and the War of 1812, Adams saluted the city, saying:
“Baltimore, the Monumental City – may the days of her safety be as prosperous and happy as the days of her danger have been trying and triumphant!”
As President Adams spoke those words, Baltimore had just three monuments of note: the Battle Monument on Calvert Street which commemorates the defenders who died during the Battle of Baltimore; the Aquila Randall monument – dedicated to a local militiaman who was killed in a skirmish preceding the 1814 battle of North Point; and the Washington Monument – the nation’s first to honor the Father of Our Country.
The cornerstone of Baltimore’s Washington Monument was laid on July 4, 1815, on a plot of land donated by Revolutionary War hero John Eager Howard. At the time of Adams’ visit, the monument was still incomplete, as the stone likeness of the general – resigning his commission in Annapolis – would not be installed on top of the column until 1829. Additional details would be added in the 1830’s – including eight bronze inscriptions suggested by then-former President Adams.
As the first monument to George Washington, the magnificent structure – with its 227 step climb to the top – has long been a popular tourist destination. In the nineteenth century, it was also a readily recognizable landmark to ships coming into the port. Herman Melville mentions the monument in his novel, Moby Dick. Eventually, age and the elements began to take their toll on the mighty column and the monument was closed to the public in June 2010.
Since January 2014, Baltimore’s Washington Monument has been undergoing an extensive $5.5 million restoration. The costly endeavor was undertaken, at the behest of the city, by the Mount Vernon Place Conservancy.
This weekend, the conservancy will rededicate and reopen the stately memorial to the public in celebration of the monument’s bicentennial. The festivities take place on Saturday July 4, beginning with a naturalization ceremony for 40 new Americans at 8:30am. The official rededication and ribbon cutting ceremony happens at 10:45am, followed by an old-fashioned country fair from 11:30am-5pm with entertainment, children’s activities, baking contests, delicious food and beverages and more. The Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church will also be open that day, as will the Engineers Club and the Maryland Historical Society.
During construction, two time capsules were discovered within the confines of the monument. These capsules, which contained almost 100 artifacts, were recently opened at the Walter’s Art Museum. The artifacts will be on display starting Saturday at the Maryland Historical Society in a new exhibit, entitled “Treasures Unearthed From Baltimore’s Washington Monument”. Admission to the Historical Society is free all day July 4.
After the monument is reopened to the public, regular visiting hours will be Friday-Sunday 12-5pm and Thursday 4-9pm. Visitors to the refurbished landmark will find state of the art interactive digital displays have replaced a number of the interior placards. Those who dare, may also climb the monument’s 227 steps. Please remember the monument was designed in 1812, so there are no elevators or handicap access to the top.
For more information about the gala celebration, visit Monumental Bicentennial. And check out Rebecca Smith’s photo story Baltimore’s Washington Monument ready for rededication)
Anthony C. Hayes is an actor, author, raconteur, rapscallion and bon vivant. A one-time newsboy for the Evening Sun and professional presence at the Washington Herald, Tony’s poetry, photography, humor, and prose have also been featured in Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore!, Destination Maryland, Magic Octopus Magazine, Los Angeles Post-Examiner, Voice of Baltimore, SmartCEO, Alvarez Fiction, and Tales of Blood and Roses. If you notice that his work has been purloined, please let him know. As the Good Book says, “Thou shalt not steal.”