ORNATE CERTIFICATE OF MEMBERSHIP FOR THE BUILDING OF THE WASHINGTON NATIONAL MONUMENT
WASHINGTON MONUMENT. [TAYLOR, ZACHARY (1784-1850) 12th President of the United States]. An ornate, printed Washington National Monument Society certificate bearing Taylor’s printed signature “Z. Taylor”, President. One page, 8 ½ x 10 ¼ inches. No date, but circa 1849. Vignettes of the proposed monument at left and right. Two allegorical females on either side of a large profile of George Washington at top center. Wood-scene vignette at bottom center. Some toning to paper with a few marginal tears [sealed using archival product on verso], along with marginal edge wear, as is expected, yet overall fine condition. Lithograph by E. Weber, & Co, Baltimore, with their imprint. The certificate is made out to J.D. Colong, Esquire and acknowledges his $5 contribution. Signed in facsimile by Taylor, Watterston, and Whittlesey in their positions as members of the committee, and signed in ink by, R. Dickerson, Agent.
An interesting historical note: Taylor spent July 4th, 1850 eating cherries and milk at a ceremony for the ground breaking of the Washington Monument. He got sick, and died 5 days later!
From the NPS website: The geometric layout of Washington, D.C.’s streets and green spaces, originally designed by Pierre L’Enfant, reserved a prominent space for a monument to George Washington at the intersection of lines radiating south from the White House and west of the Capitol. In 1833, the Washington National Monument Society, a private organization, formed to fund and build a monument to the first president that would be “unparalleled in the world.” The Society solicited for donations and designs for a decade, settling on a design by Robert Mills in 1845. Mills’ design called for a 600-foot Egyptian-style obelisk ringed by thirty 100-foot columns. The design was audacious, ambitious, and expensive, creating numerous complications during its construction. Despite difficulties raising funds, construction began on the Washington Monument in 1848. The cornerstone was laid on July 4 with upwards of 20,000 people in attendance including the President; James K. Polk; former First Lady Dolley Madison; Eliza Hamilton, widow of Alexander Hamilton; and future presidents Buchanan, Lincoln, and Johnson. Builders commenced work on the blue gneiss foundation, an 80-foot square step pyramid. With the substructure completed, the builders then proceeded to the above-ground marble structure, 55 feet, 1.5 inches square at the base, using a system of pulleys, block and tackle systems, and a mounted derrick to hoist and place the stones, inching the structure skyward. By 1854, the monument had reached a height of 156 feet above ground, but a turn of events stalled construction.
In 1853, a new group aligned with the controversial Know-Nothing Party gained control of the Washington National Monument Society in the Society’s periodic board election. Having always struggled to gather funding, the Society’s change in administration alienated donors and drove the Society to bankruptcy by 1854. Without funds, work on the monument slowed to a halt. Architect Robert Mills died in 1855. For more than two decades, the monument stood only partly finished, doing more to embarrass the nation than to honor its most important Founding Father. Congressional attempts to support the Washington National Monument Society failed as attentions turned toward the sectional crisis, then Civil War. Only as the Nation was rebuilding in the post-war years, did attention once again turn toward honoring the man who had once united the states in a common purpose. www.nps.com