WASHINGTON, DC—One of America's most beloved landmarks, the Washington Monument, became all the more stirring and inspiring Monday with the addition of disabled actor Christopher Reeve.
Reeve, 44, paralyzed below the neck after a tragic equestrian mishap last year, was bolted to the pinnacle of the 555-foot monument and affixed with display spotlights for night viewing. He will remain there permanently, on 24-hour display.
"Christopher has shown himself to be a pillar of strength and courage who brings out the best in us all," said John Beaumont, Director of U.S. Parks and Services. "He was a logical addition to this already impressive monument. Once the idea was presented, nothing could stop us: not logistical problems, not budget constraints, not even the teary objections of Mr. Reeve."
The former Superman actor and his electric wheelchair were hoisted up the side of the towering obelisk by a tractor-powered cable pulley. Reeve was then welded to the pinnacle, facing east toward the Capitol, and bolted in place with iron slugs made from a cannonball fired at the battle of Yorktown.
A bronze plaque at the foot of the monument describes Reeve's history and dimensions. It reads: "We elevate you to the heavens, so that future generations may know of your courage and your almost total paralysis."
A crowd of almost 100,000 people, including many of Reeve's closest friends, gathered to watch the heartstrings-tugging installation. "It was so beautiful," said Jane Seymour, star of TV's Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, who co-starred with Reeve in the hit 1980 film Somewhere in Time. "As the final welders were blasting away, the sparks were flying everywhere, and then they set off those fireworks. I honestly cried."
"We brought the kids here to try and teach them about the courage and fortitude Washington showed at Valley Forge," said Cal Brewer, a father of four from Greensboro, NC. "Now, with Christopher Reeve up there, the whole scene just speaks for itself."
Added Brewer: "I wish I had the courage to be crippled like that."
"You can fly... you belong in the sky...," sang celebrity guest Bette Midler, in a musical prelude to the formal dedication and attachment ceremony. "Once upon a time, my dear friend Chris flew into our movie houses and into our hearts as the Man of Steel, soaring above the highest peaks. Though today he's wearing several hundred pounds of life-support equipment instead of his old red and blue tights, from the top of this monument he shall forever soar."
Midler, who performed "Love Theme From The Movie Superman" to a standing ovation as the final weldings were secured into place, was a last-minute replacement for scheduled vocalist Margot Kidder, whose current whereabouts remain unknown.
Though Reeve was unable to speak at the commemoration due to an intense fear of heights, no one was more moved by the ceremony than the actor himself. "Please let me down," the visibly touched celebrity said to reporters. "I'm cold, and I miss my family."
Upon Reeve's natural death, he will be removed from the monument long enough to be encased in acrylic plastic, then reattached.
Reeve's installation, planners say, will give him a new ability to touch and inspire people 24 hours a day as a public fixture, rain, snow or shine. "Christopher touched us all with his heartfelt speeches at the Oscars and the Democratic Convention, but he just can't be everywhere at once," Beaumont said. "As it is, the Republicans have had to cripple their own actors to gain a comparable amount of emotional impact."
Republican actor Tom Selleck's spine was shattered by the GOP in August, gaining him many standing ovations at Republican fundraisers since.
President Reagan praised his fellow acting veteran in a telegram read at the ceremony: "Uhhh... blanket. Muhhh."
This is not the first time a showbiz notable has been added to a Washington, DC, attraction. Comedian George Burns spent the last few months of his life in the Smithsonian Institute's Museum of Arts and Industries, in a glass case between Fonzie's jacket from Happy Days and the original Kermit the Frog puppet. Bob Hope now occupies the case.
In light of the project's success, The U.S. Department of Parks and Services is considering similar additions to its attractions. Plans are already being drafted to have hearing-impaired actress Marlee Matlin bolted to the Lincoln Memorial.