WATCH: Why is the Washington Monument two different colors? WTOP finds out on its 139th anniversary

This month marks the 139th anniversary of the Washington Monument with construction wrapping up on the D.C. landmark in December of 1884. The 39 years it took to build the world’s tallest stone structure were slowed down due to controversy, bankruptcy and a gift from the pope.

The organization that raised funds for the monument was a private group not associated with the government and it set a limit for how much could be donated by a single individual.

“A lot of us here in D.C. know the pace of government can be slow,” historian and tour guide Rebecca Grawl jokingly said. She pointed out that the anti-Catholic political party, the Know Nothings, caused a major delay in the monument’s construction.

“Members of the Know Nothing Party broke into the monument and stole the Pope Stone, which was a gift from the Vatican, and threw it into the Potomac River,” she told WTOP.

The controversy led to a change in leadership with the group that was in charge of raising funds for the monument. Soon afterward, the group went bankrupt and the lack of funds shut down construction for over 20 years.

The delay in construction after the Pope Stone incident is part of the reason the Washington Monument is two different colors — the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had to use marble from a different quarry. The monument site was also seen as an eyesore and national joke, with author Mark Twain comparing the stubby, half-built monument to a “hollow, oversized chimney.”

Grawl said the Washington Monument was finally completed in 1884 thanks to everyday citizens.

“They petitioned Congress and really put pressure on them to say it is the job of the federal government to play a role in honoring our history and building memorials and monuments,” she said.

The Washington Monument was finally completed after Congress turned over funds and control to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the leadership of Thomas Lincoln Casey.

Jimmy Alexander

Jimmy Alexander has been a part of the D.C. media scene as a reporter for DC News Now and a long-standing voice on the Jack Diamond Morning Show. Now, Alexander brings those years spent interviewing newsmakers like President Bill Clinton, Paul McCartney and Sean Connery, to the WTOP Newsroom.

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