Amid reports of spotty cellphone service and "localized casualties," Tuesday's earthquake gave rise to a completely fantastic rumor that slowly seems to be gaining merit -- or at least earnest investigation: That the Washington Monument was tilting to one side. About 45 minutes after the 1:51 p.m. quake, Fox News started reporting that it had gotten reports the Washington Monument was leaning. "Megyn Kelly just shared word that a D.C. police officer told a Fox News producer that there is concern that the Washington Monument may tilting following a 5.9 magnitude earthquake," Fox News Insider reported. The Washington Times picked up the story, and Twitter immediately seized on it as one of the most fascinating (if unbelievable) reports of the day.
It seems clear to us (though we aren't there), that the police officer who talked to Kelly was referring -- possibly in a semi-joke -- to the distant possibility that something had gone wrong with the monument. This tweet from CNN's Jim Acosta seems to support that: "park police have cleared the entire mall area surrounding the Washington monument. An officer quipped 'so it doesn't fall on anybody.' " As the Washington Post reported, all the monuments and memorials around the National Mall were shut down following the temblor. And indeed, the National Cathedral was damaged. But The Monument, witnesses quickly started reporting, did not tilt. The latest from Associated Press is this quote from National Parks Service spokesman Jeffrey Olson, who "says that there was 'absolutely no damage' to the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial or other tourist destinations along the Mall."
Other eyewitnesses have not seen any lean, either. "I just walked past the washington monument, its not tilted at all," wrote Patrick Tansey, a Twitter user who happened to be in the area. AOL founder Steve Case also happened to be on the scene, and tweeted the above photo of helicopters circling the monument, apparently inspecting for damage. Yahoo News's Chris Moody tweeted "Grounds within 1000 feet of Washington Monument closed. Officers screaming 'get back!' whenever someone gets near."
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The only "evidence" we've seen of any tilt came from a photo that was first tweeted by the account @er_or. Asked if it was "legit" by another Twitter user, the anonymous account claimed he had "found it on twitter and had to sneak around some privacy settings to get it off the person's twitpic page." And while we're no experts, look closely at the photo and we see what could be some signs of Photoshop editing.
So all that we are left with, like much this day of overheated tweeting, are the jokes.
Updaet (5:55 p.m.): Washington Times has updated its post to include a CNN report (via Real Clear Politics) that the quake did, in fact, apparently loosen some stones at the monument.
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- the Washington Monument