The Lincoln Memorial
Lincoln's assassination in 1865 so affected the country that his memorial became the second presidential commemorative site to be built in the nation's capital. It is the second-most-visited of the presidential memorials, with 1.5 million viewers annually. The memorial's design, which we see every day on the back of the penny, is Henry Bacon's neoclassical interpretation of the Parthenon from ancient Greece. Thirty-six Doric columns represent the states of the Union at the time of Lincoln's assassination. Forty-eight decorative, wreathlike festoons above the columns symbolize the number of states at the time of the memorial's completion in 1922. Hawaii and Alaska are included on a terrace inscription.
The limestone walls of the memorial chamber feature the carved words of the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln's second inaugural address. There are also two murals by Jules Guerin depicting allegorical interpretations of Lincoln's achievements and beliefs on the north and south walls.
While the view of the Washington Monument across the Reflecting Pool from the front steps is serene, the power of the nineteen-foot-high seated white marble statue of Lincoln looking out onto the city makes you very aware of the magnitude of the Civil War. The statue, designed by Daniel Chester French from a death mask, took over four years to carve.
You can make your tour of the National Mall treasures more fun for the kids by requesting a Junior Ranger Program booklet from any park ranger on duty at the monuments. It will take you and the children on a self-guided tour of the Mall area.
Many art historians consider Daniel Chester French to be one of America's greatest sculptors of the nineteenth century, but outside Washington D.C., his work is virtually unknown.
It was French's intention to depict Lincoln as “the war president” in the seated statue at the Lincoln Memorial. Lincoln sits in a curule chair like those used by Roman leaders, with his arms resting on the chair arms adorned with faces that are classical symbols of authority. The Union flag is draped over the back of the chair. Lincoln has one hand clenched in a fist and the other open. Some interpret this to suggest both his determination to preserve the Union and his compassion. Legend also has it that the position of Lincoln's hands spell out “A” and “L” in American Sign Language fingerspelling. While many think this is coincidental, French did later sculpt Thomas Gallaudet, founder of Gallaudet University for the deaf in D.C., in which French incorporated American Sign Language.
Other works by French in Washington D.C. include the statue of Samuel F. Dupont at Dupont Circle; the Butt-Millet Memorial (at 17th and E Streets), and the First Infantry Division Memorial (State Place near 17th Street).An Inspiration to Many
The Lincoln Memorial has become a shrine to civil rights in the twentieth century. While many know that Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous “I Have a Dream” speech was delivered here in 1963, few are aware that as far back as 1939, the Lincoln Memorial was the site of a civil rights protest instigated by Eleanor Roosevelt. The first lady offered the memorial as the location for a recital by Marian Anderson when she was refused the stage at the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall because she was black. Roosevelt resigned her DAR membership over this snub.Location and Hours
The Lincoln Memorial is located on 23rd Street between Constitution and Independence Avenues, at the western edge of the Reflecting Pool in Potomac Park. You can reach the memorial from the Foggy Bottom (Blue or Orange Line), but expect to do some walking.
You can enter the Lincoln Memorial from 8