On October 9, 1888, the Washington Monument officially opened to the general public. It’s the tallest building in Washington, D.C. and the tallest stone structure in the world, though it lost the tallest building in the world title a long time ago (initially to a certain wrought-iron Parisian tower…and many more buildings since.)
My husband and I have lived in DC for more than 10 years and yet we had never been up to the top of the Washington Monument. So when we heard that the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery and the National Park Service had commissioned a six-acre portrait between the World War Two Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial that’s best seen from 555 feet above ground and only until October 31, we jumped at the excuse to finally cross it off from our DC-to-do list. The portrait in question was created by renowned street artist Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada, whom I’d heard of through a previous large scale mural in Vitry, outside of Paris. Titled “Out of Many One” (the English translation of the Latin phrase E pluribus unum, the motto that appears on the Great Seal of the United States and coins) it’s Jorge’s first project in the United States. In 2009, he completed a similar portrait, but of President Obama, in Barcelona where he resides. Unlike Obama’s portrait, Out of Many One is a composite portrait, made of different photos the artist took of young men from many racial backgrounds.
On the ground, there are two small openings that allow passers-by to experience the piece differently than from the top of the Washington Monument. You’re only allowed to walk on the sand part of the portrait though. At the end of October, the environmentally friendly piece, made of sand and soil, will blend back into the landscape as part of the National Park Service’s turf restoration before the grounds are turned into soccer fields (yeah!).
If you want to check out the portrait before its gone, you’ll need a little of planning and organization. Most advance tickets for the Washington Monument are booked already but you can pick up free, day-off tickets at the Washington Monument Lodge, located along 15th Street (in front of the monument.) These are distributed on a first come first serve basis, so you’ll want to get there as close to 8:30AM as you can. I didn’t get to the ticket office until 9AM and the earliest slot available then was at 1:30PM. That gave me plenty of time to walk around the mall, including through “Out of Many One,” and meet my husband at Central for brunch before heading back to the Washington Monument. It was a gorgeous day so we had a perfect view of all four sides of the city, including the West side which allows visitors to view Jorge’s portrait.
From the other angles, you can see the U.S. Capitol and the Smithsonian Institutions on the East side, the White House (and my house!) on the North side, the Jefferson Memorial, Tidal Basin and Pentagon from the South and the Arlington cityscape, the reflecting pool, World War Two memorial and, for a short time, Out of Many One.
Hope you get chance to see it! Otherwise, there’s always the Washington Monument earthcam…