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WASHINGTON — Today is the day that visitors can set foot inside the Washington Monument, nearly three years after a 5.8-magnitude earthquake closed it for repairs.

Before about 1,800 members of public, who had to get free tickets, will be allowed to walk in the doors at 1 p.m. ET, the National Park Service is having a reopening ceremony that started at 10 a.m.

"We're so excited to welcome the public back to the monument," Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles with the National Park Service said Monday.

Visitors will be able to examine new exhibits on the top floor of the 555-foot structure, including a new exhibit telling the story of Gen. George Washington, who later became the United States' first president.

"They just finished getting them installed at 3 in the afternoon on Friday," Anzelmo-Sarles said. "You can still smell the glue drying."

The epicenter of Aug. 23, 2011, earthquake that damaged the iconic obelisk was about 90 miles southwest of Washington but caused more than 150 cracks in the monument's marble. Crews assessed the damage in September 2011, created a report on what needed fixing and for the past two years construction workers have been mending the marble and reinforcing weak spots.

The project was completed on time and within budget, thanks to a $7.5 million donation from financier David Rubenstein that was matched with money from Congress, Anzelmo-Sarles said.

Original construction on the Washington Monument was begun in 1848 but stopped in 1854 when donations ran out. It resumed in 1879, after the Civil War, and the monument was dedicated on Feb. 21, 1885, the day before the former president's actual birthday.

Tickets for entry Monday were snapped up, but others can get their tickets onlinestarting Tuesday.

"Folks can walk up. They can touch the stone, feel that marble and get in the elevator and get up to the top," Anzelmo-Sarles said. "See the incredible view of the city. It's unmatched."

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