Fact Check

Laus Deo on Washington Monument Capstone Exhibit

Changes to an exhibit at the Washington Monument temporarily made the phrase 'Laus Deo' non-viewable by visitors.

Published Nov 23, 2007


Claim:   Changes to an exhibit at the Washington Monument temporarily made the phrase "Laus Deo" non-viewable by visitors.

Status:   True.

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, October 2007]

I received an email that said the National Park Service has changed their display at the Washington Monument to censor the words "Laus Deo" that are inscribed on the aluminum cap on the top of the Monument. Is this true?

The National Park Service, a branch of the federal government, has joined the Veterans Administration in establishing anti-Christian bigotry as public policy. The NPS has censored "God" from a key display of America's Christian heritage in Washington.

The reference is an engraving of "Laus Deo," which is Latin for "Praise be to God," on the east side of the 100-ounce aluminum cap atop of the Washington Monument.

Since the actual inscription on the cap is unviewable atop the 555-foot stone column, the NPS created a replica which is on display in the white-colored obelisk of marble, granite and sandstone.

Now "God" has been removed from the plaque containing information about the Washington Monument. In 2000 the plaque read:



The builders searched for an appropriate metal for the apex that would not tarnish and would act as a lightning rod. They chose one of the rarest metals of the time, aluminum. The casting was inscribed with the phrase, Laus Deo, (Praise be to God).

The NPS censored the last sentence from the latest plaque, which now reads:



The builders searched for appropriate metal for the cap that would not tarnish and would act as a lightning rod. They chose one of the rarest metals of the time — aluminum.

In addition, the replica of the cap which is in the monument has been positioned so close to the wall that the wording "Laus Deo" cannot be read. Prior to the censorship by the NPS, the replica wording could be

Origins:   The idea of creating a monument to honor George Washington, who served as the leader of the Continental Army during the American Revolution, the presiding officer at the

convention that drafted the U.S. Constitution, and the first President of the United States, was first considered by Congress as far back as 1783. No significant action was taken towards realizing that idea until fifty years later, however, when citizens organized the Washington National Monument Society for the purpose of undertaking the construction of a "great National Monument to the memory of Washington at the seat of the Federal Government."

Although by 1848 the Monument Society had collected a significant amount of money to fund the project, selected an architect and design plan, and laid the cornerstone for the monument, the Washington Monument would not be finished for another 36 years as political squabbling, design changes, and the Civil War all intervened to bring construction to a halt.

Work on the monument was finally completed when the capstone was set in place on 7 December 1884. The Washington Monument was officially dedicated on 21 February 1885, and it first opened to the public on 9 October 1888.

As we noted in a previous article about the monument, the apex of the structure was crowned

by an aluminum point with four faces, with each face bearing engraved words. Three of the inscriptions present names, dates, and figures associated with the creation of the monument, while the fourth face bears only the two words "LAUS DEO" (a Latin phrase meaning "Praise be to God" or "God be praised").

Because the inscriptions on the monument's capstone (sitting atop the 555-foot high obelisk) are not visible to visitors, a replica of the captone has been on display in a publicly-accessible area maintained by the National Park Service (NPS) at the 490-foot level of the Washington Monument. The replica rests inside a case set against a wall which displays photographs and information about the construction of the monument.

Sometime recently, however, the exhibit was changed so that the capstone replica, instead of being displayed at an angle relative to the wall behind it (thus making the inscriptions on all four sides viewable), was placed with the side representing the east face of the capstone set parallel to the wall (thus rendering the "LAUS DEO" inscription on that side non-viewable to visitors, as they cannot get between the exhibit case and the wall to see it). The last sentence of the informational card which previously accompanied the capstone exhibit ("The casting was inscribed with the phrase, Laus Deo, [Praise be to God]") was also omitted in the newer version.

The NPS' Chief of Public Affairs acknowledged the changes, said that they had been made inadvertently when the capstore replica was temporarily moved while the monument was undergoing renovations, and stated that the NPS would restore the exhibit to its previous state:

Thank you for your recent e-mail concerning the replica of the Washington Monument capstone and the associated interpretive panel.

The replica capstone was on display in a tent on the National Mall during recent renovation of the Monument. When it was moved inside the Monument, it was placed against the wall. While the change in placement and wording was never intended to offend anyone, we understand why some visitors might
feel otherwise.

We made a mistake and we are fixing it.

The capstone is being moved away from the wall so that visitors will be able to read the engravings on all four sides.

In addition, we will install interpretive panels with the exact language found on all sides of the capstone in letters easy to read. These panels will include the phrase "Laus Deo" (Praise be to God - in Latin).

I hope this is an acceptable solution. If you were personally offended, please accept our sincere apology.

And remember to Experience your America in the National Parks often.

David Barna
Chief of Public Affairs
National Park Service
Washington, DC

Last updated:   23 November 2007

  Sources Sources:

    Allen, Thomas B.   The Washington Monument: It Stands for All.

    New York: Discovery Books, 2000.   ISBN 1-56331-921-7.

    Bowling, Kenneth R.   The Creation of Washington D.C.

    Fairfax, VA: George Mason Univ. Press, 1991.   ISBN 0-913969-29-X.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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