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Did the Thalian Association help build the Washington Monument?

Ben Steelman
Thalian stone

The Thalian stone can still be found inside the Washington Monument. (From the Washington Monument website)

Strange but true: In 1851 — some years before it contributed to the building of Thalian Hall — the Thalians bought and donated a commemorative stone to the Washington Monument, then under construction.

At least 193 such stones, with appropriate inscriptions, were donated to the monument and included in its construction. Besides the Thalian Association, donors included a number of states (including North Carolina), cities, Masonic and Odd Fellows lodges, Indian tribes, military units and the governments of Japan, Switzerland, Greece and Siam.

The Thalian stone can still be found inside the monument, if you choose to walk to the top, rather than taking the elevator. (It’s at the 250-foot level.)

The rather handsome marble stone carries the inscription “Wilmington, North Carolina, Thalian Association” in gilded lettering. On it appears a bas relief portrait of George Washington in profile.

The cornerstone for the Washington Monument was laid in 1848, but construction ceased in 1854 when the private society in charge of the project ran out of money. (Congressional appropriations dried up when the society was briefly taken over by the anti-immigrant American, or “Know-Nothing” Party.)

The Civil War further delayed matters, and construction didn’t resume until 1879. (By then, the builders used a different quarry for the granite, so the monument visibly changes color, about one-third of the way up.) The capstone was finally installed on Dec. 6, 1884, and the structure was dedicated on Feb. 21, 1885.

Additional work on the interior continued, however, and federal records indicate the Thalian stone was installed at its current location in 1888.

Recognized as the oldest community theater troupe in North Carolina, and one of the oldest in America, the Thalian Association traces its roots to 1788. The group’s present incarnation dates from 1929. Its name comes from Thalia, the Greek Muse of comedy.

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