Washington Monument completed On this day in 1884, in Washington, D.C., workers place a nine-inch aluminum pyramid atop a tower of white marble, completing the construction of an impressive monument to the city’s namesake and the nation’s first president, George Washington. As early as 1783, the infant U.S. Congress decided that a statue of George Washington, the great Revolutionary War general, should be placed near the site of the new Congressional building, wherever it might be. After then-President Washington asked him to lay out a new federal capital on the Potomac River in 1791, architect Pierre L’Enfant left a place for the statue at the western end of the sweeping National Mall (near the monument’s present location). It wasn’t until 1832, however–33 years after Washington’s death–that anyone really did anything about the monument. That year, a private Washington National Monument Society was formed. After holding a design competition and choosing an elaborate Greek temple-like design by architect Robert Mills, the society began a fundraising drive to raise money for the statue’s construction. These efforts–including appeals to the nation’s schoolchildren–raised some $230,000, far short of the $1 million needed. Construction began anyway, on July 4, 1848, as representatives of the society laid the cornerstone of the monument: a 24,500-pound block of pure white marble. Six years later, with funds running low, construction was halted. Around the time the Civil War began in 1861, author Mark Twain described the unfinished monument as looking like a “hollow, oversized chimney.” No further progress was made until 1876–the centennial of American independence–when President Ulysses S. Grant authorized construction to be completed. Made of some 36,000 blocks of marble and granite stacked 555 feet in the air, the monument was the tallest structure in the world at the time of its completion in December 1884. In the six months following the dedication ceremony, over 10,000 people climbed the nearly 900 steps to the top of the Washington Monument. Today, an elevator makes the trip far easier, and more than 800,000 people visit the monument each year. A city law passed in 1910 restricted the height of new buildings to ensure that the monument will remain the tallest structure in Washington, D.C.–a fitting tribute to the man known as the “Father of His Country.” 1868 Train robbers reach the end of the line A guard, who had been shot by brothers Frank, William, and Simeon Reno during a train robbery in May, dies of his wounds. His death so infuriated the public that a group of vigilantes yanked the three brothers from their Indiana jail cell five days later and hanged them. Although the Reno gang—which included another brother, John, as well—had a short reign of terror, they are credited with pulling off the first train robbery in American history and are believed to be the inspiration for criminal copycats like the legendary Jesse James. On October 6, 1866, the Reno brothers committed their first heist. After stopping a train outside of Seymour, Indiana, they stole $10,000 in cash and gold. But they were unable to break into the safe; William Reno vainly shot it with his pistol before giving up. Though fast on their feet, the Reno brothers didn’t have much luck evading the authorities, probably because they committed almost all of their crimes in the Seymour, Indiana, area. After the 1866 heist, railroad companies hired Pinkerton detectives to find the perpetrators, and at the end of 1867, John Reno was captured. In January 1868, he pled guilty to robbing a county treasury in Missouri and was sentenced to spend 25 years in prison In his absence, the other Reno brothers continued to rob banks and trains in the area. On May 22, 1868, they stopped a train near Marshfield and beat a guard with pistols and crowbars before making off with $96,000—which was more than the James gang ever managed to score. In an attempt to lure the predictable criminals in, Pinkerton detectives floated a rumor about a big gold shipment and then nabbed the Renos when they stopped the train. Although Frank and William went rather quietly when the vigilantes hanged them on December 11, their brother Simon put up a bitter fight. He even managed to survive the hanging itself for more than 30 minutes before finally succumbing to the rope. 1865 13th Amendment ratified On this day in 1865, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, officially ending the institution of slavery, is ratified. “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” With these words, the single greatest change wrought by the Civil War was officially noted in the Constitution. The ratification came eight months after the end of the war, but it represented the culmination of the struggle against slavery. When the war began,some in the North were against fighting what they saw as a crusade to end slavery. Although many northern Democrats and conservative Republicans were opposed to slavery’s expansion, they were ambivalent about outlawing the institution entirely. The war’s escalation after the First Battle of Bull Run, Virginia,in July 1861 caused many to rethink the role that slavery played in creating the conflict. By 1862, Lincoln realized that it was folly to wage such a bloody war without plans to eliminate slavery. In September 1862, following the Union victory at the Battle of Antietam in Maryland, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that all slaves in territory still in rebellion on January 1, 1863, would be declared forever free. The move was largely symbolic, as it only freed slaves in areas outside of Union control, but it changed the conflict from a war for the reunification of the states to a war whose objectives included the destruction of slavery. Lincoln believed that a constitutional amendment was necessary to ensure the end of slavery. In 1864, Congress debated several proposals. Some insisted on including provisions to prevent discrimination against blacks, but the Senate Judiciary Committee provided the eventual language. It borrowed from the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, when slavery was banned from the area north of the Ohio River. The Senate passed the amendment in April 1864. A Republican victory in the 1864 presidential election would guarantee the success of the amendment. The Republican platform called for the “utter and complete destruction” of slavery, while the Democrats favored restoration of states’ rights, which would include at least the possibility for the states to maintain slavery. Lincoln’s overwhelming victory set in motion the events leading to ratification of the amendment. The House passed the measure in January 1865 and it was sent to the states for ratification. When Georgia ratified it on December 6, 1865, the institution of slavery officially ceased to exist in the United States.