Nov. 25: The day the architect stood atop the Monument

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BENNINGTON — The cornerstone of the Bennington Battle Monument was laid on Aug. 16, 1887, 110 years to the day from the historic battle in which Brigadier General John Stark and his American forces defeated two detachments of British General John Burgoyne's invading army. But the monument was not to reach its full 306-foot height until more than two years later, when the capstone was set in place on Nov. 25, 1889.

The date is not celebrated today — the monument closes to the public at the end of October — but 129 years ago, the occasion was marked with pomp and ceremony that merited six full columns in the Banner.

A crowd of hundreds had gathered, alerted by two gunshots at sunrise that the weather-dependent event was on. All were given the chance to see and touch the capstone before it began its trip skyward. It was made of the same material as the rest of the monument, Sandy Hill dolomite quarried in present-day Hudson Falls, N.Y., and measured 4 feet, 4 inches square at its base and 3 feet tall, topped with an 8-inch-square flat surface.

At 2:40 p.m., the capstone began its trip to the top, where a small crowd waited. At 3 p.m. precisely, the stone was set in place. "During the cementing process many of those present threw into it half and quarter dollars, and other silver coin, and none of the workmen were more active than Master 'Jack' Parsons, with his little silver trowel, procured especially for this occasion," the Banner reported.

"The setting of the cap-stone practically completes one of the loftiest and most imposing memorial shafts on the face of the earth," Capt. F.H. Buffam wrote in the Boston Herald. "The Washington monument alone in this country exceeds it in height."

A delegation of 30 people rode up the temporary, exterior elevator to a platform near the top, and then scaled a 25-foot ladder to the apex. "Here, 301 feet and 11 inches from terra firma, an informal, but not to be forgotten, reception was held. Each man in turn rode the cap-stone. Then each one stood upright without support on the point and waved his hat to the vacant air that surrounded all. North, east, south and west the country could be seen for miles," the Banner reported. "The sight was long to be remembered, and as the stagings are soon to be removed it is not unlikely that the experience will never be repeated."

Among those who stood atop the obelisk were the architect, J. Philip Rinn, the contractor, local dignitaries, and members of the press.

The monument was finished and readied for its formal dedication on Aug. 19, 1891, in elaborate ceremonies that also celebrated Vermont's centennial of statehood (though the actual date was March 4). President Benjamin Harrison headed the long list of dignitaries on that day. But 129 years ago Sunday, the celebration of the masonry structure's reaching its full height would be celebrated by those who had helped build it — and, having built it, stood atop it.

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