Laus Deo

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As part of the repair of the Washington Monument after earthquake damage, workers verify the correct position of the aluminum “capstone” that tops the monument. At the time of its creation, Aluminum was the most precious metal available because of the difficulty of smelting it from bauxite. Estimates vary as to its valuation, but it would have been as precious as silver and perhaps much more so.

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The underside of the cap, showing lightning rod conductors and a trap door.

Trap Exterior

Exterior view of the trap door during repairs. What this exists for I am uncertain, unless to allow access for repair of the lightning rods which are placed atop the monument.

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In 1984, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of its casting, a full-size replica was cast and exhibited at Tiffany’s.

The cap has four sides, each one exhibiting an inscription in cursive writing:

North face West face South face East face
Joint Commission
at
Setting of CapstoneChester A. Arthur
W. W. Corcoran, Chairman
M. E. Bell
Edward Clark
John Newton

Act of August 2, 1876

Corner Stone Laid on Bed of Foundation
July 4, 1848

First Stone at Height of 152 feet laid
August 7, 1880

Capstone set
December 6, 1884

Chief Engineer and Architect,
Thos. Lincoln Casey,
Colonel, Corps of EngineersAssistants:
George W. Davis,
Captain, 14th Infantry
Bernard R. Green,
Civil EngineerMaster Mechanic
P. H. McLaughlin
Laus Deo

The expression “Laus Deo” means “praise be to God.”

The reason for this inscription has been and continues to be debated by religious and secular scholars, as well as readers of Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, which was an intriguing book despite being short on fact and long on artistic license . Since the founders aren’t around to ask, the true answer to its meaning will probably lie forever shrouded in uncertainty. But it’s interesting to know that the cap is there, even though very few people on earth have ever seen it directly.

Click through for more history about the cap.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

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