The Lincoln Memorial is a Greek style monument in Washington DC’s West Potomac Park.
History of the Lincoln Memorial
The Lincoln Memorial was built to honour President Abraham Lincoln, who was the sixteenth President of the United States of America, serving during the American Civil War, a fact that is commemorated above the giant statue of Lincoln inside the memorial with the words “In this temple as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the union the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever”.
President Lincoln was assassinated by a actor and Confederate spy, John Wilkes Booth, at Ford Theatre on 14 April 1865. Whilst a committee for the establishment of a memorial to Abraham Lincoln was first incorporated in 1867, authorisation for the monument was not given until 1911 and construction only began on 12 February 1914.
The build was also a lengthy process and Lincoln Memorial was finally dedicated on 30 May 1922. The Lincoln Memorial was designed by the architect, Henry Bacon, who also sculpted the statue of Lincoln which visitors can see within its walls.
As the site of many important political speeches and events, Lincoln Memorial has a history of its own, independent from its original purpose. In particular, it was the site where Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech on 28 August 1963 – the spot is marked with an engraving. Today, the words of the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural speech are carved into the wall behind the monument.
Lincoln Memorial today
Lincoln Memorial stands majestically in National Mall and Memorial Parks, overseen by the National Parks Service and surrounded by other important historical sites. Visitors are free to enter the memorial at all times and it can often become quite crowded.
At the moment, work in ongoing to open up the subterranean vault below the memorial to visitors for the first time. Try coming at night: the memorial is illuminated and is often much emptier.
Getting to the Lincoln Memorial
As one of Washington’s most iconic sites, it’s pretty hard to miss. The memorial sits at the west end of the Reflecting Pool, gazing out over it. A lot of people walk there through the gardens from the Washington Monument. There’s no parking desperately near, but a cab can drop you off anywhere nearby. It’s about a halfway walk from downtown Washington.
All of America's 45 presidents have left their legacy and mark on the country in a profound way. Typically, a citizen's political party and personal beliefs determine his or her opinion of the executive officer. However, the 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, is continually voted the best president in U.S. history in a survey of modern Americans. Because of this, congressmen, architects, and historians who worked together to create the Lincoln Memorial in his honor knew that the monument must stand out among the other monuments in Washington, D.C.
Abraham Lincoln was president during the Civil War and is famous for prioritizing unity in the country. He was assassinated shortly after the war ended on April 14, 1865. Congress quickly decided that something needed to be done to honor him.
In 1910, Shelby M. Cullom and Joseph G. Cannon, members of the House of Representatives, passed the Lincoln Memorial Bill, which was signed by President William Howard Taft in 1911. The bill created the Lincoln Memorial Commission and set aside $2 million to construct the monument. In this lesson, learn about the Lincoln Memorial's architecture, design, and construction and its place in history.
15 Monumental Facts About the Lincoln Memorial
Seated proudly at the west end of Washington, D.C.’s National Mall, the Lincoln Memorial is one of the most beloved American monuments: It attracts millions of visitors each year. Here are a few things you might not know about its construction and legacy.
1. IT TOOK MORE THAN 50 YEARS TO GET A MEMORIAL FOR LINCOLN BUILT AND OPENED TO THE PUBLIC.
Efforts to create a fitting tribute to Abraham Lincoln began immediately after the leader’s assassination in 1865. Within two years, Congress had officially formed the Lincoln Monument Association and began seeking out craftsmen to bring the project to life. However, squabbling about the details of the project delayed construction until 1914. According to the National Parks Service, most of the memorial’s “architectural elements” were completed in April 1917 construction was slowed by World War I, and the memorial wouldn't open until 1922.
2. THE 19TH CENTURY DESIGN WAS MUCH MORE ELABORATE THAN THE FINISHED PRODUCT.
In the early legs of Congress’s plan to honor Lincoln, sculptor Clark Mills was enlisted to dream up the design. (Mills won the gig after creating a cast of Lincoln’s face and head in 1865 and a famous statue of Andrew Jackson on horseback in 1853.) Congress was not prepared, however, for Mills’s vision for the tribute, which involved a 12-foot likeness of Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation and a collection of 36 bronze figures (six on horseback) all housed within a 70-foot structure.
3. ONE HIGHER-UP DISAPPROVED OF WEST POTOMAC PARK AS A MEMORIAL SITE DUE TO ITS SWAMPY AND CRIMINAL REPUTATION.
When the Lincoln Memorial project was revived in the early 20th century, there were still opponents of its construction—mainly, Speaker of the House Joe Cannon. Staunch conservative “Uncle Joe” had a number of problems with the project (including his aversion to big government spending), but Cannon’s main complaint involved the proposed design and location for the monument, which he felt were unworthy of his hero Lincoln. “So long as I live,” he once told Secretary of War Elihu Root, “I'll never let a memorial to Abraham Lincoln be erected in that g-------d swamp,” referring to the marshy terrain and proclivity for producing discarded dead bodies.
4. THE TRAIN STATION WAS A PROPOSED ALTERNATE LOCATION FOR THE MEMORIAL.
Washington, D.C.’s Union Station, a major American transportation hub since its opening in 1907, was suggested by Cannon’s allies as a superior venue for a tribute to Abraham Lincoln than the Potomac River could ever be. President Theodore Roosevelt originally approved the relocation of the project to the railway stop, but took heat from the American Institute of Architects, which wanted to maintain plans for developing the Potomac site.
5. LINCOLN’S ARMS SIT ON A ROMAN SYMBOL.
The Lincoln Memorial was brought to life through the collaboration of many designers and artisans. Daniel Chester French designed the statue of America’s 16th President—which was produced by a family of Tuscan marble carvers known as the Piccirilli Brothers—and architect Henry Bacon created the monument building. The Italian Piccirillis injected Roman influence into the project, modeling the pillars upon which Lincoln rests his arms on fasces, the bundles of wood that have represented power for centuries.
6. THERE ARE ALSO GREEK INFLUENCES IN THE MEMORIAL.
Meanwhile, Bacon approached the construction of the exterior building using design cues from the classic Greek Doric temple. According to the National Park Service, it was based specifically on the Parthenon. Bacon reportedly felt that “a memorial to the man who defended democracy should be modeled after a structure from the birthplace of democracy.”
7. BACON’S CHIEF COMPETITOR HAD A FEW OUTRAGEOUS IDEAS FOR THE MONUMENT.
When some elected officials took exception to Bacon’s ideas for the structure, architect John Russell Pope presented alternative designs for a tribute to Lincoln: Among his proposals were a traditional Mayan temple, a Mesopotamian ziggurat, and an Egyptian pyramid.
8. THE MEMORIAL WAS ACTUALLY THE SECOND LINCOLN SCULPTURE DESIGNED BY FRENCH.
Just two years before beginning on the Washington project, French presented a bronze statue of Lincoln to the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Association of Lincoln, Neb. The piece depicts the President upright with his hands joined at the waist and head tilted downward. As would be the case with the later memorial, the base on which the sculpture sits was designed by Bacon. The statue still sits on the grounds of the Nebraska State Capitol.
9. LINCOLN NEARLY DOUBLED IN SIZE AS THE PLAN PROGRESSED.
French’s initial blueprints included a 10-foot Lincoln. As not to see the President outdone by the grandeur of Bacon’s surrounding hall, French bulked Honest Abe up to a more majestic height of 19 feet.
10. ABOUT 40 PERCENT OF THE MONUMENT IS UNDERGROUND.
When viewers bask in the 99-foot-tall, 202-foot-wide Lincoln Memorial, they’re really only seeing a little more than half of the construction. Rooted beneath the ground is the piece’s foundation, which extends 66 feet into the earth at its deepest point to support the weight of the marble structure.
11. LINCOLN’S SON LIVED TO SEE THE UNVEILING OF THE MONUMENT.
In the end, the memorial took eight years to build. Among those present to observe the Lincoln Memorial’s official dedication in May 1922 was a 78-year-old Robert Todd Lincoln, the only surviving son of the former president, who had visited the site during construction.
12. FRENCH MAY HAVE DESIGNED THE STATUE WITH A NOD TO AMERICAN SIGN LANGUAGE.
Observers who are literate in American Sign Language have taken note of the positioning of the sculpted Lincoln’s fingers, recognizing in their arrangement the signification of the letters A and L. Although there is no record to indicated that French intended to have the statue engaged in the act of signing, historian Gerald J. Prokopowicz finds reason to believe that the design was deliberate. Among the facts supporting Prokopowicz’s claim include a sculpture French had made of education of the deaf pioneer Gallaudet where he was teaching a student the letter A, and the fact that French is known to have tweaked his original models of Lincoln’s right hand from a clenched hand to an open one.
Furthermore, Lincoln himself was particularly invested in the cause of furthering the study of sign language: He authorized the creation and signed the charter of Gallaudet University, the school for the deaf whose founder French had also sculpted.
13. AN AD HOC CONCERT WAS HELD ON THE MEMORIAL STEPS IN RESPONSE TO RACIAL PREJUDICE.
In 1939, African American singer Marian Anderson was prohibited from performing at the Daughters of the American Revolution’s Washington, D.C. Constitution Hall. After catching wind of this discrimination, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Secretary of the Interior Harold LeClair Ickes offered up the Lincoln Memorial as the venue for a massive concert to feature Anderson on the forthcoming Easter Sunday. Anderson performed at the historic site before a crowd of 70,000.
14. RICHARD NIXON VISITED THE MONUMENT AT 4 A.M. ONE NIGHT TO DEBATE THE MERITS OF THE VIETNAM WAR.
As opposition to the Vietnam War found traction among American youth, sites like the Lincoln Memorial became venues for pacifist protests. In May 1970, just days after the Kent State shootings, the monument hosted a candlelight vigil that lasted into the night. The demonstration attracted an unlikely visitor: President Richard Nixon, who visited the Memorial just after 4 a.m. to “talk some sense” into the protesting crowd of around 30 students. Nixon later recounted, “"I walked over to a group of them and shook hands. They were not unfriendly. As a matter of fact they seemed somewhat over-awed and of course quite surprised."
15. THE MEMORIAL WALLS FEATURE A TYPO.
The north wall of the monument building features an inscription of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, a speech originally delivered in March 1865 at the tail end of the Civil War. Lincoln’s memorable incantation, “With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured,” concludes the first paragraph of the inscription, though with a minor error: The word “FUTURE” is misspelled as “EUTURE,” a blunder that remains visible despite attempts to correct it.
Lincoln High moved to what is now Lincoln Middle School before closing
After Saturday's march, guests were led to the Lincoln Middle School auditorium where the Lincoln High School Alumni Chapter sang the alma mater.
Alumni speakers recalled old teachers and reminisced about what Lincoln was like before its closure.
Speaker Lynn Jones, who graduated in 1962, said he only lived four blocks from Lincoln High School when he was in elementary school.
At the time Lincoln High School was on Northwest Eighth Avenue before it was moved to Lincoln Middle's present location of 1001 SE 12th St. in 1956.
"We were so happy, including me, to be in such a large school school, it was large to me coming from a small elementary school I was in, and we certainly enjoyed all the time that we were here," Jones said.
Sue Marie Duncan, president of the last graduating class, came to the podium and asked for her class to stand and be recognized.
She said the best of times came at the beginning of the school year in September 1969 when her classmates anticipated a typical school year.
Interesting facts about the Lincoln Memorial
The Lincoln Memorial is an American national monument built to honor the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.
The monument is located on the western end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
The Lincoln Memorial was designed by Henry Bacon.
The Lincoln Memorial construction took place between 1914 and 1922.
The building is in the form of a Greek Doric temple and contains a large seated sculpture of Abraham Lincoln.
The monument measures 57.8 by 36.1 meters (189.7 by 118.5 feet) and is 30 meters (99 feet) tall.
It has 36 columns represent the states in the union at the time of Lincoln’s death. The columns stand 13 meters (44 feet) tall with a base diameter of 2.3 meters (7.5 feet).
Daniel Chester French designed the statue of America’s 16th President — which was produced by a family of Tuscan marble carvers known as the Piccirilli Brothers.
The statue is composed of 28 blocks of white Georgia marble and rises 9.1 meters (30 feet) from the floor, including the 5.8-meter (19-foot) seated figure (with armchair and footrest) upon an 3.4-meter (11-foot) high pedestal. The statue weighs 159 metric tons (175 US tons).
Lincoln’s arms rest on representations of Roman fasces, a subtle touch that associates the statue with the Augustan (and imperial) theme (obelisk and funerary monuments) of the Washington Mall.
Directly behind the Lincoln statue you can read the words of Royal Cortissoz carved into the wall: “IN THIS TEMPLE AS IN THE HEARTS OF THE PEOPLE FOR WHOM HE SAVED THE UNION THE MEMORY OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN IS ENSHRINED FOREVER.”
In addition to the inscription behind the Lincoln Statue, two of Lincolns most famous speeches are inscribed on the north and south walls of the Lincoln memorial.
Above each of the Lincoln Memorial Inscriptions is a 18.3-by-3.7-meter (60-by-12-foot) mural painted by Jules Guerin graphically portraying governing principles evident in Lincoln’s life. On the south wall mural, Freedom, Liberty, Immortality, Justice, and the Law are pictured, while the north wall portrays Unity, Fraternity, and Charity.
The ceiling of the Memorial, 18 meters (60 feet) above the floor, is composed of bronze girders, ornamented with laurel and oak leaves.
The exterior is Colorado white marble, interior walls and columns Indiana limestone, sculpture Georgia white marble, chamber floor Tennessee pink marble, and skylights Alabama marble.
There are 58 steps from the chamber to the plaza level, and 87 steps from the chamber to the reflecting pool.
Under the Lincoln Memorial is a massive, darkened basement where steel-reinforced concrete columns are decorated with construction workers’ 90-year-old graffiti — Mutt and Jeff here, a man smoking a pipe there. Stalactites once formed by the hundreds inside. The National Park Service used to give tours, but no longer. “It was never designed for people’s safety,” explained the Park Service’s Stephen Lorenzetti, chief of resource management for the area that includes the memorial.
A legend is that Lincoln is shown using sign language to represent his initials, with his left hand shaped to form an “A” and his right hand to form an “L“. The National Park Service denies both stories, calling them urban legends.
Some have claimed that the face of General Robert E. Lee was carved onto the back of Lincoln’s head, and looks back across the Potomac toward his former home, Arlington House, now within the bounds of Arlington National Cemetery.
There’s a ‘typo’ on the Lincoln Memorial. The full texts of The Gettysburg Address and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address were hand-carved, and the engraver accidentally inscribed the word EUTURE instead of FUTURE on the north wall. The base line of the E was filled in, but the repair is obvious to the naked eye.
The statue, originally intended to be only 3 meters (10 feet) tall. However, it was revised to 5.8 meters (19 feet) by the time of construction.
The memorial has been the site of many famous speeches, including Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered on August 28, 1963, during the rally at the end of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
From 1959 to 2008, the Lincoln Memorial was shown on the reverse of the United States one cent coin, which bears Lincoln’s portrait bust on the front. The statue of Lincoln can be seen in the monument. This was done to mark the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth.
The memorial also appears on the back of the U.S. five dollar bill, the front of which bears Lincoln’s portrait.
The Lincoln Memorial is one of the most beloved American monuments.
It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since October 15, 1966.
In 2007, it was ranked seventh on the List of America’s Favorite Architecture by the American Institute of Architects.
Lincoln Memorial: A Temple of Tolerance
Invitations like the one above were sent to dignitaries, but the general public could also attend the May 22, 1922, opening of the Lincoln Memorial. This image shows a small portion of the massive crowd. (Top, Heritage Auctions, Dallas National Archives/Getty Images)
To add insult to injury, a group of “grey-clad survivors of the Confederate army”—elderly white men who had waged the rebellion to defy Lincoln and defend slavery—received special seats of honor alongside surviving veterans from the Union side. The Washington Post applauded the fact that “two groups of bowed men in blue and gray had seats to right and left of a flag for and against the existence of which they once did battle.” But an African-American eyewitness saw cruel irony in the fact that “Jim-Crowism of the grossest sort” had been practiced by “the hypocrites of the great nation” on a day devoted to Lincoln. The seating anomalies made it clear, he complained, that “the spoils have gone to the conquered, not the conquerors.”
That dedication day, yet another indignity awaited Lincoln’s African-American admirers. This additional slight, however, would at first be known only to a few of the special guests who ascended to the speakers’ platform atop the Lincoln Memorial steps—all of them as white as the pillars fronting the building. The only African-American speaker on that day’s program was Robert Russa Moton, principal of the all-black Tuskegee Institute. In a seemingly generous gesture, organizers had invited him to represent “the colored race” with a separate, and presumably equal, dedication speech. Though known as a conservative, Moton drafted a surprisingly provocative address, insisting: “So long as any group within our nation is denied the full protection of the law,” then what Lincoln had called his “unfinished work” would remain “still unfinished,” and the new Memorial itself, “but a hollow mockery.”
After reviewing Moton’s manuscript in advance, however, the White House insisted that the critical remarks be expunged Moton could either intone a more anodyne speech or forfeit his place on the program. Facing the prospect of losing the largest audience he had ever addressed, Moton gave in to the censors. His original manuscript would remain unpublished for decades.
Following Moton’s truncated speech, Chief Justice William Howard Taft, chairman of the Lincoln Memorial Commission, rose to declare almost defiantly that the new shrine represented the “restoration of brotherly love of the two sections,” not the two races. Lincoln, he insisted, was “as dear to the hearts of the South as to those of the North.”
In his own remarks, President Warren G. Harding seconded that emotion. As if speaking mainly to the Confederate veterans in the audience, Harding declared of Lincoln: “How it would soften his anguish to know that the South long since came to realize that a vain assassin robbed it of its most sincere and potent friend…[whose] sympathy and understanding would have helped heal the wounds and hide the scars and speed the restoration.” To the black newspaper the Chicago Defender, Harding’s words seemed “a supine and abject attempt to justify in palavering words of apology the greatest act of the greatest American—the freeing of the poor, helpless bondmen.” The paper went so far as to advise its readers that no Lincoln Memorial dedication had occurred at all that day.
In view of its disgraceful unveiling, the most remarkable thing about the Lincoln Memorial may be that it eventually emerged as the most universally revered of America’s secular shrines—and the most unifying.
Nearly a century later, it is now the first and most important stop on many Americans’ list of patriotic destinations, as well as a magnet for groups numbering in the tens of thousands. Here, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. capped the 1963 March on Washington with his “I Have a Dream” speech. Here, a beleaguered Richard Nixon famously appeared unannounced shortly before his resignation to commune with Lincoln’s spirit. And here, presidents-to-be from Bill Clinton to Donald Trump have appeared on the eves of their inaugurations to lay symbolic claim to Lincoln’s mantle. Whether serving as a shrine for contemplation or a rallying spot for protest or pageantry, the memorial seldom disappoints.
Sculptor Daniel Chester French poses with two plaster models of the Lincoln Memorial. Part of French’s genius was the ability to scale up his sculptures without losing proportion. (Topfoto/The Images Works)
Not unimportant, the memorial is the crowning achievement of the gifted but elusive man who created the statue that looms within its walls: sculptor Daniel Chester French (1850-1931). Thanks to his vision and talent, the site still evokes the combination of majesty and humility that Americans believe their country and their greatest leaders personify. The somber behemoth manages to present its subject, as French put it, in all “his simplicity, his grandeur, and his power”—no easy trinity of virtues to convey in a single work of art. The textured portrayal personifies Americans’ concurrent belief in both their collective modesty and their preeminent standing in the world.
French’s marble statue of Lincoln is probably the most famous sculpture ever created of or by an individual American—not to mention, at 19 feet in height and some 200 tons in weight, the largest. It is the most frequently visited, the most widely cherished, and the most often reproduced (in miniature and selfie alike) of national icons. In an age in which controversy rages over public statuary honoring Confederate generals, slave-holding founding fathers, and other blemished figures from the American past, French’s Lincoln remains majestically enthroned without objection.
That this inspiring statue was the work of a reserved, sometimes impenetrable, professional artist who lived most of his life in the Gilded Age and left few written clues about his ideas or instincts, makes its ever-expanding relevance all the more astonishing. A professional sculptor for nearly half a century when his most famous statue took its place among Washington’s great public monuments, “Dan” French was on the most obvious level a crusty New Englander, a man of many accomplishments but few words. His shut-mouthed exterior, however, masked the soul of a creative genius.
French never illuminated his art through explanation. Rather, he spoke, indeed existed, through his art—expressing himself passionately through an uncommon skill and a common touch that no other American sculptor has ever so successfully combined. “If I’m articulate at all,” he once remarked with typically modest understatement, “it is in my images.” Judged on visual terms alone, French became America’s most articulate public artist. He created the iconic “Minute Man” for his home town, Concord, Mass., when he was only 24 years old. He went on to fashion the central symbol of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, “The Republic,” along with acclaimed, realistic portraits of Ralph Waldo Emerson and John Adams. He specialized in campus statuary like “John Harvard,” “Thomas Gallaudet,” and “Alma Mater” at Columbia, along with evocative, symbol-laden cemetery markers honoring the late sculptor Martin Milmore in Boston and the three Concord-born Melvin brothers who died during the Civil War.
Wartime military heroes became a specialty as well—all of them, of course, Union men. By the time French earned the commission to create the Lincoln Memorial statue (seemingly without competition), he was already America’s best-known, highest-paid sculptor, a trustee of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and a summer resident of Stockbridge, Mass., where he lived and worked at a magnificent estate and studio, “Chesterwood”—now a National Trust site (see sidebar, below). French also chaired the National Commission of Fine Arts—the very body assigned to approve the Lincoln Memorial. He stepped down reluctantly only when it became evident the conflict of interest was insurmountable.
Even so, the project might easily have gone off the rails. For one thing, congressional backers did not all believe that the swampy park at the western edge of the new National Mall was a fitting and proper spot for a Lincoln Memorial. Alternative suggestions included Union Station, the Capitol, the National Observatory, the Soldiers’ Home, and the midpoint between Washington and the Confederate capital of Richmond.
Even when wiser heads prevailed regarding the site, details about the statue itself remained in dispute. To save time and money, some proposed ordering a replica of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ “Standing Lincoln” in Chicago. It took a concerted effort by French and the Memorial architect, his frequent collaborator Henry Bacon, to block that effort.
The figure in the foreground is said to be one of the Piccirilli brothers, the Italian-born artisans who carved the marble statue under French’s supervision. Amazingly, the statue was never fully assembled until it was placed in the Memorial. (National Archives/Getty Images)
Yet French originally contemplated a standing Lincoln of his own. He rejected the idea only when he wisely calculated that visitors approaching it from the bottom steps outside would be unable to see the face of an upright statue. For a time, French toyed with the idea of casting his Lincoln in bronze, an idea he later rejected.
Planners chose the words of the Gettysburg Address and First Inaugural to surround the statue, but had French gotten his way, Lincoln’s farewell address to the people of Springfield, Ill., delivered on February 11, 1861, when he left for Washington, D.C., and his remarkable consolation letter to Lydia Parker Bixby, a Boston woman who lost five sons in battle, would have been added—the first an acknowledged masterpiece, though it antedated the Civil War the latter a work whose authorship has since come under question. Less turned out to be more. As if by magic, French produced a small clay model at Chesterwood that captured the essence of the future statue from the start.
Not until the building was nearing completion did the sculptor realize that the envisioned 12-foot-high final work would be dwarfed within its vast atrium. The sculptor convinced Congress to pay to increase its height by seven feet only after stringing a proportionately sized plaster head from the ceiling of the memorial’s interior to demonstrate that anything smaller would look underwhelming. French’s Italian-born, Bronx, N.Y., carvers then crafted the final statue from 28 blocks of marble. Remarkably, it was never assembled into a whole until it arrived at the building, block by block, in 1919.
The final result represented French’s last stand for classicism in the fast-approaching age of modernism. That his Lincoln Memorial has so defiantly transcended changing artistic tastes and shifting public moods is a testament to the artist’s almost defiant belief in the enduring relevance of the heroic image. With the Lincoln Memorial, French accomplished not only a magisterial portrait for posterity, but also a platform for its infinite aspirations.
But the metamorphosis of the Lincoln Memorial into something greater than a memorial to Lincoln did not commence until 1939, 17 years later. That spring, African-American contralto Marian Anderson was blocked from performing at the Washington headquarters of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Resigning her DAR membership in protest, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt urged that the concert be relocated to an even larger stage: the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. There, Anderson’s hour-long Easter Sunday program attracted an integrated crowd of 75,000, “the largest assemblage Washington has seen since Charles A. Lindbergh came back from Paris,” said the New York Herald-Tribune. A national radio broadcast brought to millions more Anderson’s magnificent renditions of “My Country ’Tis of Thee” and “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.”
The meaning of the Lincoln Memorial would never be the same it had been transfigured, in the course of a single hour, from a monument to sectional reunion into a touchstone for racial reconciliation. The prestige of the Memorial expanded further through the power of popular culture. Frank Capra’s film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, released just six months after the Anderson concert, featured a particularly evocative scene from its interior. In search of inspiration, the uncertain freshman “Senator Jefferson Smith,” in the person of Lincolnesque actor James Stewart, visits the Memorial and listens “dewy-eyed” as a little boy reads the Gettysburg Address aloud to his visually impaired grandfather. An elderly black man enters the chamber just as the words “new birth of freedom” escape from the child’s lips.
The scene fades out with a giant close-up of the statue’s face to the swelling strains of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “The Star Spangled Banner.” Dr. King’s appearance a quarter century later, in what he called “the symbolic shadow” of “a great American,” only cemented the metamorphosis.
The original, flawed 1922 Lincoln Memorial dedication closed with a benediction—after which most of the dignitaries along its top step clustered around white-bearded Robert Todd Lincoln, the president’s sole surviving son, to offer greetings. As the huge, segregated crowd below began to disperse, French strolled unnoticed into the building and spent a few silent minutes communing with the huge marble figure he had created. After a few moments in solitude, he glanced to his side and noticed Robert Russa Moton standing next to him, gazing at the work as well.
To French’s delight, Dr. Moton “praised the statue.” French, in turn, confided to him that he remained worried about the way it was lit, for despite last-minute modifications, the sculpture still did not look as he had intended. “Dr. Moton was a sympathetic listener and Dan found himself being drawn out to give him some of the details of the building,” remembered the sculptor’s daughter.
Did French confide to Moton that he had intended that the statue would “convey the mental and physical strength of the great president”? Did Moton confide his disappointment at the prejudice manifested at the dedication ceremony? Unfortunately, no one made a further record of their conversation.
We know only that after they spoke, “the powerfully built college president and the frail-looking sculptor walked out into the sunshine and the May wind as they went down the steps and stood on one of the terraces looking up at the memorial”—the same breathtaking view enjoyed by millions of fellow Americans, black and white, ever since.
Harold Holzer, winner of the Lincoln Prize and chairman of the Lincoln Forum, is the author, coauthor, or editor of 53 books, most recently Monument Man: The Life and Art of Daniel Chester French, from which this article is adapted.
The House at Monument Mountain
In 1896, longing for a place to live and work during the summertime, Daniel Chester French purchased a farmhouse in Stockbridge, Mass. Although the main structure was dilapidated and an old barn seemed unsuitable as a studio, the surrounding vistas captivated him: Monument Mountain rising in the near distance, and a carpet of trees and flowers blooming on all sides. French called it “the best ‘dry view’ he had ever seen.” Obtaining a cash advance on a statue he was fashioning of General Ulysses S. Grant, French paid $3,000 to acquire both buildings and 150 surrounding acres. He named his new estate “Chesterwood” after his grandparents’ hometown of Chester, N.H.
Chesterwood – the studio of Daniel Chester French located in Stockbridge, Connecticut. Daniel Chester French (1850-1931) was the sculptor of the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Memorial in Washington, D.C. The studio has a standard-gauge railroad track used to roll large sculpture outdoors for viewing in natural light. The museum holds what is probably the largest single collection of work by any American sculptor.
For the next 33 years, French and his family summered here. The sculptor hired architect Henry Bacon—future designer of the Lincoln Memorial—to create a fine replacement house and an adjacent studio (moving the barn up the hill). By 1898, French began working here on an equestrian statue of George Washington for the city of Paris. Here, French would later fashion the original clay model of his seated Lincoln, plus sculptures of Civil War Generals Joseph Hooker and Charles Devens. French later said of his Chesterwood routine, “I spend six months of the year up there. That is heaven New York is—well, New York.”
When was the Lincoln Memorial Designed and Built?
While it was built over an eight-year period – between 1914–1922 — the Lincoln Memorial structure was first designed back in the late 1800s, when Congress decided to up the ante of the existing statue due to popular demand. Lincoln was a much-loved figure and the demand for a memorial more fitting of the president's legacy was considerable. The original statue was erected in 1868, three years after the assassination of the president. But, as we said, many believed that this statue was not fitting for the President and his services to the US, so they demanded a more impressive memorial to commemorate Lincoln.
Congress complied with this request and began to enlist designers and builders for the memorial project. At this point, a fierce debate raged on as some parties believed that Lincoln would have preferred a modest log cabin memorial. The original design was chosen, but the project ran out of steam soon afterwards. However, as the charitable subscriptions needed to build, the statue did not reach the necessary amount. At the turn of the 1900s, Congress was challenged again to create another monument. After five failed bills to restart the project, the sixth finally passed in 1910. The next step in the process was for the Lincoln Memorial Commission, led by President Taft, to decide upon a site and design for the project. Each of these came with their own debates surrounding them and the issue of where to place the statue was particularly contentious.
After the plans were approved, and although they changed throughout time, the building was finally underway. The statue of Lincoln was originally intended to be 10-feet tall, but it was nearly doubled in size to 19 feet after designers expressed concerns that the statue may look small compared to the huge housing that surrounded it. The result was the huge statue we see today, and it was obviously well built and maintained as it remains in impeccable condition to this day.
Lincoln Memorial - History
The Lincoln Memorial suits its surroundings so well that it seems to have always been there. The city's master designer, Pierre L' Enfant, could hardly have imagined a better architectural anchor to the west end of the Mall, the grassy area he visualized between the Capitol Building and the Potomac River.
Behind the memorial to the west lies Arlington National Cemetery and the stately Lee-Custis Mansion to the east you see the Washington Monument and Capitol Hill. The massive sculpture of Lincoln faces east toward a long reflecting pool. The peaceful atmosphere belies the years of disagreement over what kind of monument to build and where.
Help from Lincoln's Friends
In 1910 two members of Congress joined forces to create a memorial which honored Lincoln. Shelby M. Cullom and Joseph G. Cannon, who had known Lincoln in Illinois, pushed through a Lincoln Memorial bill which President Taft signed on February 11, 1911. The bill created the Lincoln Memorial Commission to oversee the project and set aside $2 million in funds. The final cost, however, was $3 million.
Before the commission completed plans to build in what was known as the Potomac Flats, it considered various locations and memorial ideas which ranged from a highway to a huge pyramid. John Hay, one of Lincoln's White House secretaries, promoted the Potomac location, saying that the monument should stand alone, distinguished, and serene.
On Memorial Day, May 30, 1922, the building was dedicated, 57 years after Lincoln died. About 50,000 people attended the ceremonies, including hundreds of Civil War veterans and Robert Todd Lincoln, the president's only surviving son. The main speakers were President Warren Harding, former President William Howard Taft, and Dr. Robert Moton, principal of the Tuskegee Institute, who delivered the keynote address.
New York architect Henry Bacon modeled the memorial in the style of a Greek temple. The classic design features 36 Doric columns outside, symbolizing the states in the Union at Lincoln's death. The building measures 204 feet long, 134 feet wide, and 99 feet tall, with 44-foot columns. It blends stone from various states: white Colorado marble for the exterior, Indiana limestone for the interior walls, pink Tennessee marble for the floor, and Alabama marble for the ceiling.
© Abraham Lincoln Online
| The Statue|
Daniel Chester French, the leading American sculptor of the day, created the famous statue of Lincoln which dominates the interior. He remarked, "We all have an inner consciousness of how Lincoln looked or must have looked, and this was mine." The memorial plans originally specified a 12-foot bronze statue, but it proved out of scale for the huge building. The finished statue is 19 feet tall, carved of 28 blocks of white Georgia marble. French later had special lighting installed to enhance the figure. Visitors sometimes ask if the hands have special significance, such as forming the letter "A" in sign language, but there is no indication French intended it.
Directly behind the Lincoln statue you can read the words of Royal Cortissoz carved into the wall: "IN THIS TEMPLE AS IN THE HEARTS OF THE PEOPLE FOR WHOM HE SAVED THE UNION THE MEMORY OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN IS ENSHRINED FOREVER."
The chamber north of the statue contains Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, topped by a mural by Jules Guerin called "Reunion." Guerin also painted the "Emancipation" mural in the south chamber over the Bliss version of the Gettysburg Address.
This site on 23rd Street NW is maintained by the National Park Service and is open 24 hours a day. Parking near the memorial is extremely limited, even at night, when the monument is best viewed. The closest Metro stop is Foggy Bottom. For more information write: National Capital Parks, 900 Ohio Drive SW, Washington, D.C. 20242 or call 202/426-6841.
After Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, many people felt a memorial should be made in his honor. Getting it built took more than 50 years.
- The first memorial was built in 1868, three years after Lincoln’s death.
- Later, Clark Mills proposed a design for a larger memorial but it was so extravagant that raising enough money to build it wasn’t possible. Progress on a memorial floundered until finally in 1910, Congress approved a design and President William H. Taft oversaw the project.
- The Lincoln Memorial is designed after a Greek Temple. It features a 19 foot statue of Abraham Lincoln sitting in a chair. Inscribed on the monument are the words from two of Lincoln’s most well-known speeches, the Gettysburg Address and his second inaugural address.
- The memorial was constructed from 175 tons of Georgia white marble. Advertisement
Questions and Answers
Question: Who designed and built the memorial?
Answer: Henry Bacon designed the building’s neoclassical exterior, which many people thought did not represent Lincoln’s humble nature.
Some people thought a log cabin would be more fitting. Daniel Chester French designed the sculpture and the Piccalilli brothers carved it. Jules Guerin painted the murals on the walls of the building.
Lincoln Memorial Cents
I started collecting coins in the mid 1950s, and like most collectors, then and now, I was hooked on Lincoln cents. At the time, all the Lincolns I encountered had wheat stalks on the reverse, or "Wheaties," in other words.
The end to new Wheaties came with the 1958 cent, replaced by 1959 cents with a representation of the Lincoln Memorial on their reverses. 1959 was an auspicious year for me, as that&aposs when I graduated from high school.
Of course, the year was also the 50th anniversary of the Lincoln cent, which had begun in 1909, with Victor D. Brenner&aposs design. 1909 wasn&apost just chosen at random, as it was the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln&aposs birth on February 12, 1809. Obviously, that would make 1959 the 150th anniversary or sesquicentennial of Lincoln&aposs birth.
Frank Gasparro, an assistant to Chief Engraver Gilroy Roberts, submitted the design chosen for the memorial reverse. Gasparro&aposs design depicted a front view of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, complete with the Lincoln statue visible in the center of the building. The designer&aposs initials, FG, are located in the field to the right of the building.
With Roberts&apos departure to more lucrative fields (chairman of the board of the General Numismatic Corporation, which morphed into the Franklin Mint), Gasparro was appointed to the vacated position. Q. David Bowers, writing about Gasparro in A Guide Book of Lincoln Cents, offered the following description: "More than any chief engraver up to that time, Gasparro was a warm, friendly, outgoing man who loved numismatics and enjoyed meeting members of the coin collecting community. He was ever ready to relate his experiences and to grant interviews." He was widely mourned following his death in 2001.
COLLECTING LINCOLN MEMORIAL CENTS
One glance at a pricing guide such as "Market Watch" (MW) in this magazine will tell you that the vast majority of Lincoln Memorial cents are worth little more than face value. Mintages tell the story, as most are either well into nine figures or into the billions. To put these humongous mintages into perspective, the total mintage of Wheaties over their 50-year run was approximately 24.5 billion coins. By contrast, more than 27 billion Memorial cents were coined at the Philadelphia and Denver mints between 1964 and 1970!
That said, there&aposs much interest in this 50-year series. With such huge mintages, anomalies are bound to surface, and, in fact, there are several interesting die varieties.
The first of these came in the second year of the new series: the 1960 small date cent. With a David Lange (The Complete Guide to Lincoln Cents) estimated mintage of a little more than two million, this variety was spotted early because it occurred in the first month of mintage, with the result that many were saved by numismatists. Although there was rampant speculation and outrageous prices were charged for the variety near the time of discovery, the value given for an MS60 in this magazine is just $2.75, with an MS65 worth $12.
According to Bowers, a quick way to tell if your 1960 cent has a large or small date is to examine the relationship between the date&aposs first two digits: If the tops of the 1 and 9 are at the same level, it&aposs the small date variety. Otherwise, it&aposs the large date.
Another interesting and valuable 1960 cent variety is the small over large date proof 1960 cent. In the Fivaz and Stanton Cherrypickers&apos Guide (F/S), this is listed as a Doubled-Die Obverse, which Bowers called a large date over small date. No matter what it&aposs called, MW says it&aposs worth $600 in PR65.
The Denver mint was not immune from 1960 cent variety creation, and the most interesting variety is what F/S again called a Doubled-Die Obverse cent. Their description reads, "The doubling is evident as a Small Date Over Large Date. There is also a very wide[ly] repunched mintmark, with the secondary D far north of the primary D, actually touching the 9 of the date." MW values are $125 in MS60, $300 in MS65.
Variety gold struck again in 1969, with the 1969-S Doubled Die. As F/S described it, "Extreme[ly] strong doubling is evident on all obverse lettering and numbers." The mintmark is not doubled, however, and if someone offers you a strike doubling (also called machine doubling) version of the real thing, it&aposs essentially worthless.
You wouldn&apost believe how many novice collectors think they&aposve hit the jackpot when they find a 1969-S cent with strike doubling. When they show their find on CoinTalk, there&aposs always an old hand on the site who gives a link to the real deal, putting an end to the finder&aposs dreams of fortune.
Thinking the first examples reported were spurious, the Secret Service destroyed five of them before determining that they were actually genuine. The 1969-S Doubled Die is quite rare, with appropriately high MW values: $32,000 in MS60, $100,000 in MS65. Fivaz and Stanton noted that a PCGS MS65 RB example sold for $130,000 in 2008.
The 1970-S cent has its share of varieties as well. The small date versions are the ones of collector interest, both in the regularly issued coins and the proofs. According to F/S, "The easiest way to distinguish the Small Date cents of 1970-S is actually the word LIBERTY, which weakens dramatically from left to right." Bowers noted that in the date on the Small Date cents, the 7 is level with the top of the 0. It&aposs also known as the 1970-S High 7 variety. MW values are $40 in MS60, $90 in MS65, and $60 in PR65.
Doubled die cents abound on the 1970-S Lincolns, with Lange reporting six. He wrote, "DDO-1 is quite pronounced and extremely rare, perhaps too rare to be considered collectable
. . . ." MW prices reflect this rarity, with values of $20,000 in MS65 and $15,000 in PR65. About the variety, Bowers noted, ". . . significant doubling is seen on the peripheral lettering. This issue. . . remains very rare, despite intensive searching through hoarded cents of this date."
F/S listed three doubled dies on the obverse of the 1971-S proof cent, with DDO-002 having the most pronounced doubling. Doubling is strongest on the motto and IN GOD WE TRUST, with none on the date. "This is by far one of the rarest Proof doubled dies in the Lincoln cent series. . . . .," they wrote. MW gives a value of $400 in PR65.
The next major variety is found on the 1972 cents, with pronounced doubling on the date, motto, and LIBERTY. There are several other doubled die obverse varieties of the 1972 cent, but DDO-001 commands the largest premiums. MW values are $285 in MS60 and $600 in MS65. Next, we come to the 1983 cent with reverse doubling. Although there are several 1983s with obverse doubling, the 1983 with reverse doubling is the cream of the crop.
F/S described it as follows: "All reverse lettering is strongly doubled, including UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and ONE CENT. Also doubled are the designer&aposs initials and portions of the memorial. . . . We suggest checking current price guides for constantly changing prices." The prices in MW are $180 in MS60 and $325 in MS65.
Next, we come to a variety I found in circulation (actually, in my wife&aposs purse), had certified, and eventually sold, the 1984 Doubled-Die Obverse. It&aposs also known as the 1984 Doubled Ear.
At some point in 1984, I read in a numismatic periodical about the new variety and that some had been found in a relatively nearby city in my state. After looking through all my saved cents and not finding it, I asked my wife if she had any pennies, she did, and the rest, as they say, is history. She had an example that was a nice, red, mint state coin. It was subsequently certified as MS64 Red.
Although Bowers wrote, "This variety can be discerned under low magnification and shows part of an extra earlobe below and slightly left of Lincoln&aposs ear," I was able to see it clearly without magnification. Of course, you must realize that my eyes were 37 years younger than they are today!
My point is that the most interesting and expensive minting varieties are not so subtle that you need magnification to see them. Think 1955 Lincoln cent doubled die. Novice collectors frequently think they have found the 1984 Doubled Ear and send dramatic enlargements to CoinTalk. Unfortunately, their picture of the obverse of the coin doesn&apost show anything of the sort. Remember: If you can only see a minting variety at certain angles, in a particular light, and with 15X or greater magnification, forget it. It&aposs either nonexistent or too subtle to be of much value.
Incidentally, I found it a lot harder to sell the 1984 Doubled Ear than I expected it to be. Most dealers I showed it to at a large ANA convention had no interest in it. When I took it to a dealer in die variety and error coins, he told me that there was a problem with zinc cents, that they sometimes developed what looked like tiny bubbles on the surface as the copper coating begins to separate from the zinc. Sure enough, when I looked at my coin with a loupe, I could see the tiny bubbles.
Armed with this knowledge, I became even more determined to get rid of mine. I offered it to a dealer I had done a lot of business with, told him what it was, and got an offer of $10. At the time, the wholesale value was maybe $200. I eventually got him up to $65, which I took.
Although there are many additional die varieties among the Lincoln Memorial cents, including another doubled ear (1988), I&aposll close with the 1995 Doubled-Die Obverse. According to F/S, the coin has "Very strong doubling. . . evident on LIBERTY and IN GOD WE TRUST, with minor doubling on the date."
"First reported by Felix Dausilio, this variety received rapid recognition when it appeared on the front page of USA Today, sending all of us on a nationwide treasure hunt." I bought a certified example of this, kept it awhile, then sold it because I didn&apost think the actual doubling was nearly as dramatic as it appeared in photographic enlargements. Bowers appears to agree with my assessment, as he described the variety as ". . . slightly doubled on the obverse. . . ." MW gives values of $25 in MS60 and $60 in MS65, which is about what it was when I bought my example in 1995.
As I think you can see from my article, the 50-year Lincoln Memorial series has a great deal going for it for the average collector. For one thing, except for the varieties I&aposve talked about (and many varieties I didn&apost talk about), it&aposs a series with no real key dates or even scarce semi keys. Thus, it would be simple and relatively inexpensive to put together a really attractive set.
As for the minting varieties, doubled dies and the like, there are enough of these to whet the appetite of even the most jaded Lincoln cent collector. If you&aposre interested in these, a good starting place for your search would be the most recent copy of the first volume of Bill Fivaz and J. T. Stanton&aposs Cherry Pickers&apos Guide to Rare Die Varieties of United States Coins. The last edition (6th) was published by Whitman, and it appears on Amazon that a new edition is on the way. However, I found no listing for the book on the Whitman site.
At any rate, see if you can find a reasonably priced example of the 6th edition, and take it with you to the next coin show you attend. Happy Hunting!