Builders of the Monument

Title

Builders of the Monument

Description

The Washington Post published an article highlighting the contributions of laborers who built the Washington Monument. The article included an illustration of the individuals profiled and revealed their occupational backgrounds. Some worked on ships and others on railroads before joining the Monument's construction crews. One of the workers highlighted was African American concrete mixer Lewis O'Brien. The images in the center of this illustration represent the entrance to the monument (left), and Superintendent P. H. McLaughlin testing the elevator with some workmen (right).

Source

The Washington Post

Date

12/7/1884

Coverage

Text

Some Interesting Facts about the Men Whose Pictures are Given

Theodore V. Ryder, one of the carpenters who has been employed on the work for the last three years, served his apprenticeship under Mr. McLaughlin, who is his brother-in-law. The elevator conductor is Edward Wayson, who was working under McLaughlin as a carpenter when he was building the Ascension Church. He accompanied the superintendent to the monument and followed his trade there until the erection of the elevator, when he was made conductor. It is estimated that he has made between thirty and forty thousand trips up and down the elevator, having taken up all the 9,612 stones and all the woodwork used in the erection of the obelisk and its interior furnishings.

As the men would descend every night, the only colored man employed on the summit, named Lewis O’Brien, used to start up the old camp meeting songs such as “Beneath the Shadows of the Rock,” &., and, when the men joined in the chorus, the structure would ring with their stentorian voices. Lewis, although born in North Carolina before the war, has never felt the bonds of slavery. His grandmother was set free by her master, a Mr. John Jackson, for having rescued one of his children one night from a burning building. Lewis went to Baltimore and engaged himself as a laborer. While there he taught himself to read and write by attending a night school now and then and by picking up scraps of learning from his fellow workmen. He has been working on the monument since its construction was recommenced, and has mixed all of the cement used. His black face fairly beamed with joy and pride yesterday when he was called to spread the cement under the cap-stone. The colored people among whom he lived look up to him with great respect for having been connected with a work of such great importance. He has been made the butt of all the jokes of the boys at the top of the monument.

“Old Corporal,” as Joseph Engelfinger is called, has only been working on the obelisk for a short time as a laborer. He got his sobriquet from having been in the army sixteen years. He entered during the war, and served in Capt. Davis’ regiment on the frontier. He used to carry the mails from one post to another, and was always in the saddle. Although he was in danger of being pierced with an arrow shot by some treacherous Indian, yet he used to mount his horse and start off with as much coolness as he would eat his breakfast.

Charles Cumberland has been engaged as a skilled laborer ever since the setting of the stones began. William Branson, who was formerly as sailor in the United States Navy, was formerly employed upon the ground, but at the commencement of the roof-building he was called up higher and engaged upon the top as a laborer.

All the rigging on the Bureau of Engraving and Printing was done by James Hogan, who, coming to the Monument five years ago as a skilled laborer setting stones, succeeded Bute, the rigger, when the latter resigned. He is an old sailor, and has been at sea nearly all his life.

Another of the skilled laborers, named James Wells, who has been upon the work since its commencement, made himself notable by being the first man to be thrown over the side of the structure. In swinging one of the cranes round a guy attached to it struck him, and over he tumbled, fortunately being caught by the net. All the men, including Mr. McLaughlin himself have at different and several times tumbled into the net, or been knocked into it accidentally.

One of the laborers, John Flynn, was standing on the wall, which was at that time about six feet about the netting, working with a guy rope, when he slipped and fell over the side. He was naturally considerably scared, but clung on to the guy rope and was caught by the net, from which he climbed hand over hand to the platform again. The strength of the netting is something extraordinary. At one time a wooden straight line, which Mr. McLaughlin prized highly, was lying in it, when a thunder storm, accompanied by a strong gale of wind, arose, and the straight line threatened to be blown over, when it would have been smashed irrevocably. Knowing how the line was pried by their superintendent, all of the thirteen men got into the net together and made the line fast.

One of the first men engaged by McLaughlin as a skilled laborer was James E. Talbot, and with the exception of a few months he has been constantly employed there since. Three or four months ago John Mahoney, an Irishman, was taken on to assist the machinist Joseph Williams, who broke his arm by tumbling down from one of the landings to that below, a distance of about ten feet.

Sam Maston, a carpenter, engaged three or four months ago, was formerly employed as a ship carpenter at the navy yard. Joseph Faunce used to help his father, a fisherman, until he became a laborer upon the monument. George Knightsey and James Flynn helped the masons to set every stone in the roof, while James Chauncey, who has been one of the stonecutters since the work started, helped to cut the roof stones and has been employed on the top since the setting of the roof began, doing such little trimmings as were necessary. He lives in Alexandria, going and returning every day.

All the masonry has been done by Dennis O’Leary and Thomas Purcell. The latter is not now employed on the monument. After reaching the 500 foot level there was only room for one mason, and as O’Lear was the younger man he was kept on to finish the work, while Purcell was sent below and worked as a stonecutter.

The inside of the monument on the ground floor has been in the charge of James B. Evans, who has been employed there nearly seven years. While the new foundation was being put under the structure the greater part of the material was received by him. When the stone setting began the care of landing the stones and putting them on the elevator devolved upon him. The last year he has been assisted by Thomas Riley, who has traveled over nearly the whole of the United States as a carpenter, employed in making railroad bridges, &c.

A Lynchburg man is in charge of the engine which runs the elevator. His name is John E. McKenna, and he took the place about two years ago, succeeding F. M. Dykes, who now runs the elevator in the Patent Office.

The illustration within the portraits show the monument entrance and the elevator ascending. The superintendent is indicating the line which marks the top of the Capitol dome.

Original Format

newspaper article.

Description

The Washington Post published an article highlighting the contributions of laborers who built the Washington Monument. The article included an illustration of the individuals profiled and revealed their occupational backgrounds. Some worked on ships and others on railroads before joining the Monument's construction crews. One of the workers highlighted was African American concrete mixer Lewis O'Brien. The images in the center of this illustration represent the entrance to the monument (left), and Superintendent P. H. McLaughlin testing the elevator with some workmen (right).

Date

12/7/1884

Coverage

1860-1889

Source

The Washington Post