Starting with the Civil War-era, we find quite a variety of memorials to Abraham Lincoln. Besides the Lincoln Memorial itself, there are at least seven smaller memorials to Lincoln in Washington, DC. There is Lincoln at Judiciary Square, Emancipation, the Rail Splitter, the two statues at the National Cathedral, and a statue and bust at the Capitol. In this post, we’re discussing two of the four “outdoor” memorials to Lincoln, the Lincoln Memorial and Lincoln at Judiciary Square.
The Lincoln Memorial
The Lincoln Memorial, anchoring the West end of the National Mall, is the largest of the Lincoln Memorials in the District – and one of the largest in the world. But before we get to the monument, let me point out that somewhere in the Ford Motor Company archives is information on a suggestion that was made at the time of the monument dedication. Someone wanted to promote the idea that would create a national roadway from the Lincoln Memorial to Gettysburg. The suggester further said that the road should be lined with monuments to various Civil War heroes! We DO have a Lincoln Highway today but it’s not the road that was originally suggested.
Henry Bacon, was the architect — his design suggests a Greek Temple. Groundbreaking took place in 1914, with the laying of the cornerstone in 1915 – both days on Lincoln’s birthday, February 12th. The Memorial was dedicated on May 30, 1922. By the way, at the East end of the Mall is the Ulysses Grant Memorial, which faces Lincoln. That Memorial was dedicated just one month before Lincoln, on April 27, 1922.
Symbols, on the exterior and the interior, are abundant: Thirty-six columns around the Memorial represent the number of states in the Union at the time of Lincoln’s death. Above each column is a state seal. At the very top of the building you see another set of state seals, forty-eight in all, representing the number of states in the Union at the time the Memorial was dedicated. The exterior of the structure is Colorado marble. Also on the exterior, on the top steps, is a quote from Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech that Dr King gave from this very location.
The main interior chamber contains the statue of Lincoln. Two of his most famous speeches, the Second Inaugural Address and the Gettysburg Address are carved into the walls of the two adjoining chambers. The side chambers also contain expansive murals by artist/illustrator Jules Guerin (not to be confused with Jules Guerin, the anti-semite!) representing the social elements that Lincoln dealt with during his Presidency as well as some of the principles and beliefs that impacted and guided his life.
The main chamber, sixty feet wide, seventy feet long, and sixty feet high had to be built in proportion to the colossal statue of Abraham Lincoln. The ceiling of this chamber is notable for its thin panels of Alabama marble that are supported by bronze girders. The thin panels are treated in a particular technique that uses beeswax to saturate the marble. With this technique, light is diffused into the chamber and the ceiling appears to glow.
The floor and the pedestal for Lincoln’s statue is pink Tennessee marble and the walls and interior columns are Indiana limestone.
The statue is the work of sculptor, Daniel Chester French and was put together like a puzzle, using twenty blocks of Georgia marble. The blocks are interlocked so perfectly that the statue looks like it is carved from one piece. It took the carvers four years to complete this piece – and let’s give a nod to those carvers, the Piccirilli Brothers, who were well-known stone cutters and sculptors during the early 1900s.
Lincoln is seated on a flag-draped chair that sits on a ten-foot high pedestal. His hands rest on columns on which are carved fasces, a common symbol on many memorials that represent the Roman symbol of union. The seated statue is nineteen feet tall but if Lincoln were to stand up, he would be about twenty-eight feet tall! Sculptor Daniel Chester French had this to say about his concept of the statue: “The memorial tells you just what manner of man you are come to pay homage to; his simplicity, his grandeur and his power.”
The setting of the Lincoln Memorial today belies the area as it originally existed. Before work was begun on the grounds, a visitor would not have been able to walk to the site, which was considered an isolated, swampy, gloomy area. There is a persistent myth that Washington DC was built on a swamp – that’s just not true. The wetlands that would become the site of the Memorial included the area from the Washington Monument/White House Ellipse all the way down to the Memorial – definitely NOT the area where the District was built! So, as the Monument took form, the marshes were filled in and construction transformed the area. In doing so, the work transformed the entire Mall. Today Lincoln sits directly in line with the US Capitol, the Grant Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the WWII Memorial to the East. To the South, as a symbolic healing of the rift between North and South after the Civil War, the Arlington Memorial Bridge joins the Lincoln Memorial with the Robert E Lee Mansion (aka Arlington House), across the Potomac River in Arlington National Cemetery.
Lincoln at Judiciary Square
This statue of Lincoln that sits in front of the District Superior Court, was the first of the public monuments to Lincoln in the District of Columbia. In fact, it is the oldest existing memorial to Abraham Lincoln in the nation – but that has only been true since the early nineteen hundreds. An earlier statue, made of plaster, stood in San Francisco in 1866 which, when it eroded, was replaced with one of metal. That metal statue was destroyed in the great fire of 1906.
Immediately after Lincoln was assassinated, a small group of businessmen and civic leaders came together to plan a memorial and began raising funds for the project. Rather than a huge, imposing installation, the group wanted something more personal, from the people of Washington to “their” President. The largest donation for this memorial came from John T Ford, who had sold his Washington theatre – that’s right, Ford’s Theatre — and purchased and operated another one in Baltimore. When Ford found out about the request for donations he held a special performance and gave the proceeds, eighteen hundred dollars, to the fund.
The statue was carved in marble and is the work of Irish artist, Lot Flannery. The choice of Flannery was controversial. Many felt, disdainfully, that he was nothing more than an “Irish stonecutter” and had no business working on such an important piece. This Irish stonecutter proved to be more than up to the task, creating a noble, stately Lincoln.
Dedication took place on April 15, 1868, exactly three years after Lincoln’s death. The Washington Star reported on the dedication, noting that the crowd numbered some fifteen to twenty thousand. Present at the dedication, among many dignitaries, was President Andrew Johnson. NOT present, however, were the members of Congress and the Justices of the Supreme Court who were, on that day, convened on Capitol Hill for President Johnson’s Impeachment trial.
At the time of its dedication, the statue sat atop a tall marble column, over thirty-five feet high. The column put Lincoln up so high that some complained that they could barely make out who was up there!
The marble statue portrays Lincoln as a lawyer and statesman. This being a smaller memorial, and mobile, and similar to other small monuments around the District, it has been removed more than once from this site. The first time it was removed was in the 1920s, during a renovation of City Hall. By the time the renovation was complete, the great Lincoln Memorial was almost finished and various officials felt that this sculpture was no longer relevant. Not so! Enough important people spoke up in favor of the statue so, on April 15, 1923, it was put back in place – but this time, on a much shorter pedestal. This was good for the public and bad for the statue because now it was much more accessible to vandals. Over time, Lincoln’s fingers were broken off, finally necessitating replacement of his right hand. The hand that is now attached is not in scale and is too large.
The other time the statue was removed was during another recent renovation of the City Hall-Judiciary Square area. It was returned in mid-April, 2009 and although the statue was “restored”, it appears, unfortunately, that the restoration did not include a re-working of Lincoln’s hand back to its original scale. Maybe next time…
With our next blog we’ll finish up the outdoor statues of Lincoln. Join us while we discuss Emancipation and The Rail Splitter.
- Roll Call Article: Lincoln Statue Stands Tall, April 23, 2009
- “The Outdoor Sculpture of Washington DC”, James M Goode
- “Testament to the Union”, Kathryn Allamong Jacob