Lincoln Memorial

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Lincoln Memorial
Aerial view of Lincoln Memorial - east side EDIT.jpeg
Aerial View (2010)
Lincoln Memorial is located in Washington, D.C.
Lincoln Memorial
Location West End of National Mall, Washington, D.C.
Coordinates Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
Area 27,336 square feet (2,539.6 m2)
Built 1914–1922
Architect Henry Bacon (architect)
Daniel Chester French (sculptor)
Architectural style Beaux-Arts
Visitation 6,546,518 (2013)
NRHP Reference # 66000030[1]
Added to NRHP October 15, 1966
Site of the Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool as it appeared prior to beginning their construction
President Warren G. Harding speaks at the dedication of the Memorial in 1922

The Lincoln Memorial is an American national monument built to honor the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. It is located on the western end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., across from the Washington Monument. The architect was Henry Bacon; the designer of the primary statue – Abraham Lincoln, 1920 – was Daniel Chester French; the Lincoln statue was carved by the Piccirilli Brothers;[2] and the painter of the interior murals was Jules Guerin. Dedicated in 1922, it is one of several monuments built to honor an American president. It has always been a major tourist attraction and since the 1930s has been a symbolic center focused on race relations.

The building is in the form of a Greek Doric temple and contains a large seated sculpture of Abraham Lincoln and inscriptions of two well-known speeches by Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address. 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.

Like other monuments on the National Mall – including the nearby Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, and National World War II Memorial – the memorial is administered by the National Park Service under its National Mall and Memorial Parks group. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since October 15, 1966. It is open to the public 24 hours a day. In 2007, it was ranked seventh on the List of America's Favorite Architecture by the American Institute of Architects. Since 2010, approximately 6 million people visit the memorial annually.[3]


The first public memorial to Abraham Lincoln in Washington, D.C., was a statue by Lot Flannery erected in front of the District of Columbia City Hall in 1868, three years after Lincoln's assassination.[4] Demands for a fitting national memorial had been voiced since the time of Lincoln's death. In 1867, Congress passed the first of many bills incorporating a commission to erect a monument for the sixteenth president. An American sculptor, Clark Mills, was chosen to design the monument. His plans reflected the nationalistic spirit of the time, and called for a 70-foot (21 m) structure adorned with six equestrian and 31 pedestrian statues of colossal proportions, crowned by a 12-foot (3.7 m) statue of Abraham Lincoln. Subscriptions for the project were insufficient.[5]

The matter lay dormant until the start of the 20th century, when, under the leadership of Senator Shelby M. Cullom of Illinois, six separate bills were introduced in Congress for the incorporation of a new memorial commission. The first five bills, proposed in the years 1901, 1902, and 1908, met with defeat because of opposition from Speaker Joe Cannon. The sixth bill (Senate Bill 9449), introduced on December 13, 1910, passed. The Lincoln Memorial Commission had its first meeting the following year and U.S. President William H. Taft was chosen as the commission's president. Progress continued at a steady pace and by 1913 Congress had approved of the Commission's choice of design and location.

There were questions regarding the commission's plan. Many thought that architect Henry Bacon's Greek temple design was far too ostentatious for a man of Lincoln's humble character. Instead they proposed a simple log cabin shrine. The site too did not go unopposed. The recently reclaimed land in West Potomac Park was seen by many to be either too swampy or too inaccessible. Other sites, such as Union Station, were put forth. The Commission stood firm in its recommendation, feeling that the Potomac Park location, situated on the Washington Monument-Capitol axis, overlooking the Potomac River and surrounded by open land, was ideal. Furthermore, the Potomac Park site had already been designated in the McMillan Plan of 1901 to be the location of a future monument comparable to that of the Washington Monument.[5][6]

With Congressional approval and a $300,000 allocation, the project got underway. On February 12, 1914, a dedication ceremony was conducted and the following month the actual construction began. Work progressed steadily according to schedule. Some changes were made to the plan. The statue of Lincoln, originally designed to be 10 feet (3.0 m) tall, was enlarged to 19 feet (5.8 m) to prevent it from being overwhelmed by the huge chamber. As late as 1920, the decision was made to substitute an open portal for the bronze and glass grille which was to have guarded the entrance. Despite these changes, the Memorial was finished on schedule. Commission president William H. Taft – who was then Chief Justice of the United States – dedicated the Memorial on May 30, 1922 and presented it to President Warren G. Harding, who accepted it on behalf of the American people. Lincoln's only surviving son, 78-year-old Robert Todd Lincoln, was in attendance.[7]

The Memorial was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966.[8]


In September 1962, vandals painted the words "nigger lover" in foot-high pink letters on the rear wall.[9]

On the morning of July 26, 2013, the memorial was shut down after the statue's base and legs were splashed with green paint.[10] It reopened later that day.[11] A 58-year-old Chinese national, Jiamei Tian, was later found responsible for the vandalism. Following her arrest at the Washington National Cathedral, she was admitted to St. Elizabeths Hospital, a psychiatric facility, and was later found to be incompetent to stand trial; she has since been released from the hospital.[12]


The exterior of the Memorial echoes a classic Greek temple and features Yule marble from Colorado. The structure measures 189.7 by 118.5 feet (57.8 by 36.1 m) and is 99 feet (30 m) tall. It is surrounded by a peristyle of 36 fluted Doric columns, one for each of the 36 states in the Union at the time of Lincoln's death, and two columns in-antis at the entrance behind the colonnade. The columns stand 44 feet (13 m) tall with a base diameter of 7.5 feet (2.3 m). Each column is built from 12 drums including the capital. The columns, like the exterior walls and facades, are inclined slightly toward the building's interior. This is to compensate for perspective distortions which would otherwise make the memorial appear to bulge out at the top when compared with the bottom, a common feature of Ancient Greek architecture.[13]

Detail of the Memorial's friezes

Above the colonnade, inscribed on the frieze, are the names of the 36 states in the Union at the time of Lincoln's death and the dates in which they entered the Union. Their names are separated by double wreath medallions in bas-relief. The cornice is composed of a carved scroll regularly interspersed with projecting lions' heads and ornamented with palmetto cresting along the upper edge. Above this on the attic frieze are inscribed the names of the 48 states present at the time of the Memorial's dedication. A bit higher is a garland joined by ribbons and palm leaves, supported by the wings of eagles. All ornamentation on the friezes and cornices was done by Ernest C. Bairstow.[13]

The Memorial is anchored in a concrete foundation, 44 to 66 feet (13 to 20 m) in depth, constructed by M. F. Comer and Company and the National Foundation and Engineering Company, and is encompassed by a 187-by-257-foot (57 by 78 m) rectangular granite retaining wall measuring 14 feet (4.3 m) in height.[13]

Leading up to the shrine on the east side are the main steps. Beginning at the edge of the Reflecting Pool, the steps rise to the Lincoln Memorial Circle roadway surrounding the edifice, then to the main portal, intermittently spaced with a series of platforms. Flanking the steps as they approach the entrance are two buttresses each crowned with an 11-foot (3.4 m) tall tripod carved from pink Tennessee marble[13] by the Piccirilli Brothers.[14]


The area where the statue stands is 60 feet wide, 74 feet long, and 60 feet high.[15] The interior of the Memorial is divided into three chambers by two rows of Ionic columns. These columns, four in each row, are 50 feet (15 m) tall and 5.5 feet (1.7 m) in diameter at their base. The north and south side chambers contain carved inscriptions of Lincoln's second inaugural address and his Gettysburg Address.[16] Bordering these inscriptions are pilasters ornamented with fasces, eagles, and wreaths. The inscriptions and adjoining ornamentation were done by Evelyn Beatrice Longman.[13]

The Memorial is filled with symbolism: the 36 columns represent the states in the union at the time of Lincoln's death, the 48 stone festoons on the attic above the columns represent the 48 states in 1922. Above each of the inscriptions is a 60-by-12-foot (18.3 by 3.7 m) 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. Both scenes contain a background of cypress trees, the emblem of Eternity. The murals were crafted with a special mixture of paint which included elements of kerosene and wax to protect the exposed artwork from fluctuations in temperature and moisture conditions.[17]

The ceiling of the Memorial, 60 feet (18 m) above the floor, is composed of bronze girders, ornamented with laurel and oak leaves. Between the girders are panels of Alabama marble, saturated with paraffin to increase their translucency. Despite the increased light from this device, Bacon and French felt the statue required even more light. They decided upon an artificial lighting system in which a louvered lighting panel would be set in the ceiling with metal slats to conceal the great floodlights. Custodians could adjust the lights from a control room, varying them according to the outside light. Funds for this expensive system were appropriated by Congress in 1926, and in 1929, seven years after the dedication, the statue was properly lighted. Since that time, only one major alteration has taken place in the Memorial's design. This was the addition of an elevator within the structure to aid handicapped visitors, which was installed in the mid-1970s.[17]



Epitaph by Royal Cortissoz above Abraham Lincoln by Daniel Chester French

Lying between the north and south chambers is the central hall containing the solitary figure of Lincoln sitting in contemplation. The statue was carved by the Piccirilli Brothers under the supervision of the sculptor, Daniel Chester French, and took four years to complete. The statue, originally intended to be only 10 feet (3.0 m) tall, was, on further consideration, enlarged so that it finally stood 19 feet (5.8 m) tall from head to foot, the scale being such that if Lincoln were standing, he would be 28 feet (8.5 m) tall. The extreme width of the statue is the same as its height. The Georgia white marble sculpture weighs 175 short tons (159 t) and had to be shipped in 28 separate pieces.[17]

The statue rests upon an oblong pedestal of Tennessee marble 10 feet (3.0 m) high, 16 feet (4.9 m) wide, and 17 feet (5.2 m) deep. Directly beneath this lies a platform of Tennessee marble about 34.5 feet (10.5 m) long, 28 feet (8.5 m) wide, and 6.5 inches (0.17 m) high. 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.[18] The statue is discretely bordered by two pilasters, one on each side. Between these pilasters and above Lincoln's head stands the engraved epitaph,[17] composed by Royal Cortissoz, shown in the box to the left.[19]

Sculptural features

The sculpture has been at the center of two urban legends. Some have claimed that the face of General Robert E. Lee was carved onto the back of Lincoln's head,[20] and looks back across the Potomac toward his former home, Arlington House, now within the bounds of Arlington National Cemetery. Another popular 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 president's initials. The National Park Service denies both legends.[20]

The March on Washington in 1963 brought 250,000 people to the National Mall and is famous for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.
The location on the steps where King delivered the speech is commemorated with this inscription

However, historian Gerald Prokopowicz writes that, while it is not clear that sculptor Daniel Chester French intended Lincoln's hands to be formed into sign language versions of his initials, it is possible that French did intend it, because he was familiar with American Sign Language, and he would have had a reason to do so, that is, to pay tribute to Lincoln for having signed the federal legislation giving Gallaudet University, a university for the deaf, the authority to grant college degrees.[21] The National Geographic Society's publication, "Pinpointing the Past in Washington, D.C." states that Daniel Chester French had a son who was deaf and that the sculptor was familiar with sign language.[22][23] Historian James A. Percoco has observed that, although there are no extant documents showing that French had Lincoln's hands carved to represent the letters "A" and "L" in American Sign Language, "I think you can conclude that it's reasonable to have that kind of summation about the hands."[24]

Sacred space

As Sandage (1993) demonstrates, the Memorial has become a symbolically sacred venue especially for the Civil Rights movement. In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to allow the African-American contralto Marian Anderson to perform before an integrated audience at the organization's Constitution Hall. At the suggestion of Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harold L. Ickes, the Secretary of the Interior, arranged for a performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday of that year, to a live audience of 70,000, and a nationwide radio audience.

On August 28, 1963, the memorial grounds were the site of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which proved to be a high point of the American Civil Rights Movement. It is estimated that approximately 250,000 people came to the event, where they heard Martin Luther King, Jr., deliver his historic speech, "I Have a Dream", before the memorial honoring the president who had issued the Emancipation Proclamation 100 years earlier. King's speech, with its language of patriotism and its evocation of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, was meant to match the symbolism of the Lincoln Memorial as a monument to national unity.[25] The D.C. police also appreciated the location because it was surrounded on three sides by water, so that any incident could be easily contained.[26] Twenty years later, on August 28, 1983, crowds gathered again to mark the 20th Anniversary Mobilization for Jobs, Peace and Freedom, to reflect on progress in gaining civil rights for African Americans and to commit to correcting continuing injustices. The "I Have a Dream" speech is such a part of the Lincoln Memorial story, that the spot on which King stood, on the landing eighteen steps below Lincoln's statue, was engraved in 2003 in recognition of the 40th anniversary of the event.

At the memorial on May 9, 1970, President Richard Nixon had a middle-of-the-night impromptu, brief meeting with protesters who, just days after the Kent State shootings, were preparing to march against the Vietnam War.

Depictions on U.S. currency

Reverse of a 2003 five-dollar note and 2006 Lincoln cent

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.

In popular culture


  • 1978: In the Clive Cussler novel Vixen 03, the memorial is destroyed by a shell fired from the USS Iowa, however, the statue of Lincoln remains intact.
Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool
at sunrise
at dusk


  • 1939: In a key scene in the Frank Capra film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the statue and its inscription provide inspiration to freshman Senator Jefferson Smith, played by James Stewart.
  • 1951: In the science fiction classic The Day the Earth Stood Still, Klaatu/Mr. Carpenter and Billy visit the Lincoln Memorial, provoking Klaatu, a visitor from the stars, to say: "Those are great words, he must have been a great man?"
  • 1976: In the science fiction film Logan's Run, the statue of Lincoln reveals to the characters the look of old age.
  • 1993: In more than one scene, Clint Eastwood and Rene Russo sit on the steps of the Memorial in In the Line of Fire.
  • 1994: In a scene from the film Forrest Gump, Forrest (Tom Hanks) delivers a speech standing on a podium in front of the Memorial facing the reflecting pool.
  • 1995: In a memorable scene in the film Nixon, President Richard Nixon (played by Anthony Hopkins) pays an impromptu, late-night visit to the Memorial, which is being occupied by Vietnam War protesters. The scene was based on a real-life incident when Nixon and his White House butler paid a visit to the Memorial in the early morning hours of May 9, 1970.
  • 1996: In the science fiction movie Independence Day, the Lincoln Memorial can be seen as a massive alien spacecraft enters the sky around Washington, D.C.
  • 2001: In the science fiction film Planet Of The Apes the Lincoln Memorial is shown in an alternate timeline as being a memorial for an ape named General Thade.
  • 2004: In the Disney film National Treasure, main characters Ben Gates and Riley Poole discuss the possibility of stealing the Declaration of Independence while sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
  • 2005: In the comedy movie, Wedding Crashers, the two main characters, played by Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn, watch the sunrise on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and question whether they're getting too old to continue crashing weddings for sport.
  • 2009: In the comedy movie Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian, the statue of Lincoln comes to life (voiced by Hank Azaria) and has a short conversation with the characters of Ben Stiller and Amy Adams and helps them defeat the Horus warriors.
  • 2011: In the superhero movie, X-Men: First Class, Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr are seen playing chess and talking on the steps of the memorial.
  • 2011: In the science fiction movie, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Megatron destroys the statue of Lincoln and then sits on the chair. This is a callback to "Atlantis, Arise!", a season 2 episode of the original The Transformers series where G1 Megatron did the same.
  • 2013: In the movie White House Down, the President (played by Jamie Foxx) requests a fly-by of the Lincoln Memorial, at both the beginning and the end of the movie to pay homage to his hero.


  • 1991: In The Simpsons episode "Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington", Lisa Simpson goes to the Memorial hoping to be inspired by the spirit of Lincoln. She arrives to find a crush of tourists ahead of her, and detours to the Jefferson Memorial. The spirit of Thomas Jefferson speaks to her there, but is annoyed that she came to him only as a second choice.
  • 1993: In the Ren & Stimpy Show episode "An Abe Divided", Ren and Stimpy get jobs working at the Lincoln Memorial where Ren overhears about treasure inside the memorial's head. Ren and Stimpy then saw off Lincoln's head only to find caramel corn inside, but are left with a headless-Lincoln. They spend the episode trying to fix their mess with disastrous results.
  • 2004: In the "The Stormy Present" episode of the TV series The West Wing, President Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen) visits the Lincoln Memorial after being prompted by a letter to "Go see Lincoln and listen."
  • 2015: In "Reunion", the penultimate episode of Falling Skies, it is determined that the alien queen is located at the Lincoln Memorial and this is where they must go to win the war. In the series finale "Reborn", resistance leader Tom Mason confronts the queen face to face in the ruins of the Lincoln Memorial and kills her, destroying the alien invaders. Months later, the Memorial has been rebuilt and is where a united humanity gathers to choose a new leader.

Video games

  • 2000: In the video game Command and Conquer: Red Alert 2, the Lincoln Memorial can be seen in missions that take place in Washington, D.C. In the Allied Campaign Lincolns head was replaced by a head of Stalin before America was liberated. In the Soviet Campaign, it was destroyed for a cash bounty.
  • 2008: In the video game Fallout 3, 200 years after a nuclear war set in 2077, the Lincoln Memorial has been badly damaged, including Lincoln's head having gone missing from the statue. The head is later found in the possession of several escaped slaves who want to return it to the memorial and restore it to its original condition.

Music videos

  • 1985: The music video for "We Built This City (On Rock and Roll)" by Starship features a still shot of the Memorial interior. A view has the group and onlookers singing the refrain upwards to Lincoln's statue. The view then switches to the statue coming to life—literally moved by their conviction—standing up, and sings along.

See also



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  2. "Lincoln Memorial National Memorial; Washington, DC National Park Service
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  5. 5.0 5.1 NRHP Nomination, p. 4
  6. Thomas, 2002
  7. NRHP Nomination, p. 5
  8. NRHP Nomination, p. 6
  9. "Vandals Deface Lincoln Memorial" Ocala Star-Banner (September 27, 1962)
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  11. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 NRHP Nomination, p. 2
  14. Concklin, Edward F. The Lincoln Memorial, Washington. United States Government Printing Office, 1927
  15. U. S. Office of Public Buildings and Public Parks. The Lincoln Memorial p.8
  16. There was an error in the engraving of the second inaugural address. In the line, "With high hope for the future," the "F" of the word future was originally carved as an "E". To cover the mistake, the bottom line of the E is not painted in.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 NRHP Nomination, p. 3
  18. See Buchner, Edmund (1976). "Solarium Augusti und Ara Pacis", Römische Mitteilungen 83: 319–375; (1988). Die Sonnenuhr des Augustus: Kaiser Augustus und die verlorene Republik (Berlin); P. Zanker The Augustan Program of Cultural Renewal for a full discussion of the Augustan solarium and its architectural features.
  19. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  20. 20.0 20.1 "Lincoln Memorial: Frequently Asked Questions" on the National Park Service website
  21. Prokopowicz, Gerald J. Did Lincoln Own Slaves? And Other Frequently Asked Questions About Abraham Lincoln. Pantheon, 2008. ISBN 978-0-375-42541-7
  22. Evelyn, Douglas E. and Dickson, Paul A. On this Spot: Pinpointing the Past in Washington, D.C. (National Geographic Society, 1999). ISBN 0-7922-7499-7
  24. Percoco, James A., speech given on April 17, 2008, in the Jefferson Room of the National Archives and Records Administration as part of the National Archive's "Noontime Programs" lecture series. Broadcast on the C-Span cable television network on April 4 and April 5, 2009.
  25. Fairclough, Adam. "Civil Rights and the Lincoln Memorial: The Censored Speeches of Robert R. Moton (1922) and John Lewis (1963)." The Journal of Negro History 82 (1997): 408-416.
  26. Jennings, Peter and Brewster, Todd. The Century. Doubleday, 1998


  • Hufbauer, Benjamin. Presidential Temples: How Memorials and Libraries Shape Public Memory (2006)
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  • Sandage, Scott A. "A Marble House Divided: The Lincoln Memorial, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Politics of Memory, 1939–1963," Journal of American History Vol. 80, No. 1 (Jun., 1993), pp. 135–167 in JSTOR
  • Thomas, Christopher A. The Lincoln Memorial and American Life (2002)

External links

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