Washington Monument reopens with first lady Melania Trump cutting ribbon

Maria Puente, USA TODAY

After a three-year closure for repairs, the Washington Monument reopened Thursday with a ceremonial flourish that included First Lady Melania Trump joining the ribbon-cutting and taking the first ride to the top to see the view.

Wearing a sleeveless white dress by Prada and her customary sky-high heels, she high-fived a crowd of excited fourth graders from Amidon-Bowen Elementary School in Washington.

Then, with National Park Service officials who hosted the ceremony, she and the kids cut the ribbon in front of the entrance to the monument. Afterwards, she and the kids took the ceremonial first ride to the top, the White House said. 

First lady Melania Trump at the Washington Monument after its reopening ceremony on the National Mall on Sept. 19, 2019.

Last week, Trump, who's followed a low-key schedule in recent months, tweeted she was eager to participate.

"Looking forward to helping reopen one of our many historic treasures, the Washington Monument, here in the nation’s capital next week!," her tweet read. 

In line with her Be Best initiative, Trump also distributed “Every Kid in the Outdoors” 4th Grade passes to the kids, for free access to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas, including all national parks. The program aims to establish a life-long connection between children and the American outdoor heritage, the first lady's office said.    

The monument, a 555-foot marble and granite obelisk that stands as a beacon on the National Mall, has been closed since September 2016 so that workers could replace the aging elevator and upgrade security systems.

The monument officially reopened to the public at noon.

Once again, tourists and admirers can expect to queue for long periods for the chance to see America's national capital from the top of the structure dedicated to the memory of America's first president.

First lady Melania Trump helps cut the ribbon to re-open the Washington Monument, joined by students from Amidon-Bowen Elementary School in Washington, on Sept. 19, 2019.

Shortly after the ceremony began, the National Park Service tweeted that all tickets to visit Thursday were gone and the ticket office would reopen Friday at 8:30 a.m. for tickets that day.

It's no mystery why: "The views from up here are like nothing else," enthused National Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst, speaking to reporters during a Wednesday tour of the site.

Few have seen those views over most of the past eight years. A (rare) earthquake in the Washington area in August 2011 left cracks in the stones near the top of the obelisk. It reopened in 2014, but Park Service officials were forced to close it again two years later after a series of elevator malfunctions.

"It was two or three times a week," Litterst said. "We couldn't guarantee that you wouldn't get stuck." Which would not be a pleasant memory of Washington for the hundreds of thousands who visited each year when it was open. 

Another shiny new feature that will manifest at sunset Thursday: Enhanced LED lighting aimed at distributing light on the monument more evenly while reducing energy consumption and light pollution, according the National Park Foundation, which joined the park service and a private company, Musco Lighting, to design the system. Among other enhancements, it will make the pyramidion at the top of the monument much more visible at night. 

Considering how important it now is to America's national image, the Washington Monument was, famously, not an easy build. Construction began in 1848 and took nearly 40 years to complete.

The private organization that was running the project ran out of funding and construction was halted in 1854 at around 150 feet; that delay was exacerbated by the Civil War.

Construction resumed in 1879, but builders were forced to use stone from a different quarry — giving the monument its distinctive, slightly odd two-tone color.

At the time of its completion, it was the tallest building in the world, but was soon overtaken by the Eiffel Tower in 1889, now a French national symbol in Paris.

The monument remains the tallest building in Washington (the Capitol is on higher ground) and has averaged about 500,000 visitors per year.

Contributing: Ashraf Khalil, Associated Press 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Melania Trump cuts ribbon as Washington Monument reopens