If A Stone in Washington Monument Could Talk...

In a recent visit to Ankara, Turkey, President Barack Obama mentioned a gift that was given to the United States in 1854. In his speech, President Obama spoke about the history of both Turkey and America’s struggle of democracy and how both nations built monuments to honor their founding fathers. Obama was referring to the Washington Monument and how other nations came through to contribute to building this structure. He said “One of those tributes came from Istanbul. Ottoman Sultan Abdulmecid sent a marble plaque that helped to build the Washington Monument. Inscribed in the plaque was a poem that began with a few simple words, and I quote: “So as to strengthen the friendship between the two countries”. Over 150 years have passed since those words were carved into marble. Our nations have changed in many ways. But our friendship is strong, and our alliance endures”.

This friendship between Turkey and the United States dates back to the early 1800’s, after America gained its independence from the British Empire. Shortly after, Turkey began establishing trade relations with the US. The first treaty between the two nations was signed and put into effect in 1830. Sultan Abdulmecid presented his gift to the States to not only help honor George Washington and the American Revolution, but also to secure a strong ally with the new government. Many know that the Washington Monument was constructed in honor and remembrance of George Washington, who was one of the founding fathers of the United States. However, there are many historical facts surrounding the completion of this monumental structure that many do not know.

In 1832, nearly one hundred years after the birth of America.s first president, American citizens came together to form the Washington National Monument Society. This society had only one goal which was to establish and construct a monument that .shall be like him in whose honor it is to be constructed, unparalleled in the world, and commensurate with the gratitude, liberality, and patriotism of the people by whom it is to be erected”.

However, the society had to overcome many obstacles before the completion of the memorial. Within a few years, the society raised enough funds to commence construction, yet, no particular design for the structure was finalized. As a result, the society decided to hold a competition for the design of the Washington Monument with instructions that it should “be of such magnitude and beauty as to be an object of pride to the American people, and of admiration to all who see it”.

An architect, Robert Mills won this notable competition in 1836. Mill’s original design was a 600′ tall obelisk with a flat topped circular colonnade surrounding the obelisk. He wanted to include a statue of George Washington on top of the colonnade and 30 revolutionary war heroes surrounding him. Unfortunately for Mills, the cost of this design was too extravagant and well over the funds available by the society.
Despite the setback for design, twelve years later the construction of this memorial commenced and the foundation for the memorial was laid. However, the society had not raised the estimated cost of one million dollars. Due to the Civil War and lack of financial backing, construction was stopped and did not resume again for nearly twenty-five years. In order to cut costs, the society asked the states to donate memorial stones to place in the interior walls.

However, the majority of the donated stones were inscribed with statements irrelevant for its purpose. The society felt that the donated stones from the states did not reflect the honorable tribute which George Washington deserved. In addition to stones donated from the states, the society received many stones from across the globe.

One stone caught the eye of the society which possessed and reflected the qualities of George Washington and the nation. The society graciously accepted the marble plaque from Sultan Abdulmecid of the Ottoman Empire, present day Turkey. The stone was made of marble and measured 152.7 centimeters wide by 83.9 centimeters high. The stone was placed on the seventeenth floor of the Washington Monument. It was inscribed with a poem written in celi talik script, which is one of the most difficult scripts to pen and is rarely used today. The poem translated to English reads:

“In support of eternal friendship, Abdulmecid Han allowed his honorable name to be written in the tall stone in Washington”
In support of eternal friendship, Abdulmecid Han allowed his honorable name to be written in the tall stone in Washington.

Today, this marble stone from Sultan Abdulmecid still stands within the walls of the Washington Monument. It stands for a friendship that has overcome in itself many obstacles as the two nations have grown and changed; from the times of the Ottoman Empire and American Revolution, and continues to this day.
This friendship has withstood the test of time and has survived and endured through difficult times. Turkey and the United States have stood side by side in World War II, the Cold War, to recent times in Kosovo and Afghanistan. The two nations have also continued to work together for advancements in technology, science, and trade.
Who would have known that a simple gift of friendship could have such a strong impact and still be remembered 150 years later?

by Sibel Gedikli

Works Cited

  • Derman, M. Ugur. “An Ottoman Gift to America.” Trans. Mohamed Zakariya. Seasons. Zaytuna Institute. Web. .
  • “Monument Monday – 897 Steps to the Top of the Washington Monument.” The DC Traveler. 29 Oct. 2007. Web. 4 Oct. 2009.
  • Obama, Barack. “Turkish Grand National Assembly Complex.” Speech. Turkey, Ankara. CNN, 06 Apr. 2009. Web. 4 Oct. 2009.

Monument pictures are from www.flickr.com, users dyoshida and wallyg.