As the crowd counted down from 10, sunlight drained from the sky behind the Washington Monument. When the count reached zero and the switch was thrown, nothing happened.
Some individuals in the crowd shouted “Happy New Year” in jest, and those on stage assured the crowd it would take some time for the lights to warm up.
Slowly, row by row, each layer of lights came on as the sunlight faded. All 488 metal halide lamps began to glow at 6,200 lumens with 70 watts of power. From July 8 until repair work is done next year, the lights will come on every night at dusk and remain on until dawn.
The monument has been closed to visitors since August 2011 when an earthquake caused significant damage to the landmark.
Those particular lights were chosen because they have good illumination and are energy efficient, Carol Johnson, a communications officer with the National Park Service, said.
Each light is held in place by the more than 6,000 pieces of scaffolding decked with blue canvas in a pattern that mimics the pattern of the stone.
Congress provided $7.5 million to repair it under the assumption that private donations could match the government contribution. David Rubenstein, a co-founder at the Carlyle Group, an investment firm, agreed earlier this year to put up the money.
“I hope that you all have a chance to visit, and I hope that you all contribute something to this great country,” Rubenstein said during brief remarks at the lighting ceremony.
More than a hundred people attended the event that took place just southeast of the monument. On hand were Rubenstein; the superintendent of the National Mall, Bob Vogel; the director of the National Park Service, Jonathan Jarvis and the president of the Trust for the National Mall, Caroline Cunningham. The U.S. Army Brass Quintet played several songs before the lighting.
The monument will remain covered and lit for about a year, Vogel said.