The Lincoln Memorial sits at the far west end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., facing the Reflecting Pool. The memorial, inspired by the Parthenon in Greece, was designed by the architect Henry Bacon. At 190 feet long and 120 feet wide, it is among the largest of the memorials on the National Mall.
The 38 Doric columns lining the façade of the memorial represent the 36 states of the Union at the time of Lincoln’s death. Above the columns is a frieze upon which are inscribed the 36 states and the dates on which they became members of the Union. One step up from that is the attic frieze, upon which is inscribed the 48 states that made up the Union at the time of the memorial’s dedication in 1922. Each of the ornamental carvings on both friezes was completed by Ernest C Bairstow, a Washington, D.C., based sculptor. The Lincoln Steps leading up to the memorial from the edge of the reflecting pool are flanked by two buttresses, each supporting 11-foot-tall tripods carved from pink Tennessee marble.
The interior of the memorial is divided into the north, south, and central chambers. Rows of Ionic columns divide the chambers from each other. The north chamber is home to a carved inscription of Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address and Unity Mural, representing fraternity, charity, and the unification of the North and South after the civil war. The south chamber showcases the Gettysburg Address and Emancipation Mural, representing the emancipation of the slaves, freedom, and liberty. The sculptor Evelyn Beatrice Longman carved both the inscriptions and the ornamentation surrounding them. Murals above the inscriptions in the north and south chambers represent the governing principals of Lincoln’s life. These larger-than-life paintings were created by the artist Jules Guerin.
In the central chamber, visitors see the grand solitary statue of Lincoln. He sits in contemplation. The statue was designed by Daniel Chester French and took four years to build, carved by the Piccirilli brothers. Behind Lincoln is a carved epitaph written by Royal Cortissoz. Cortissoz was a New York Herald Tribune columnist, author, and lecturer, yet among all the writing he has done, he considers his simple yet clear homage to Lincoln his greatest work.
The different stones used throughout the monument, granite from Massachusetts, marble from Tennessee, Georgia, Colorado, and Alabama, and the Indiana limestone, were purposefully chosen to represent the coming together of the nation after the Civil War.
History: The Lincoln Monument Association was incorporated in 1867, just two years after the assassination of America’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. However, plans to construct a monument never raised sufficient funds. Finally, in 1910, a bill was passed that allowed for the planning of a sizable monument to Lincoln to begin in earnest. Construction began on the project in 1914, and although it slowed through the First World War, the monument was completed in 1922. Robert Todd Lincoln, Lincoln’s only surviving son, who was 78 at the time, attended the dedication. The memorial has taken on a particular significance within the Civil Rights Movement. 1963, the memorial grounds were the site of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, an impactful event of the American Civil Rights Movement.
The Lincoln Steps leading up to the memorial have been the site of some of the most historically important speeches in United States history, including the site of the podium from with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr delivered his I Have a Dream speech. Today, 6 million people visit the Lincoln Memorial annually.
Ongoing Programs & Education: Park rangers are on hand between 9:30am and 10:00pm to answer questions about the memorial and the associated national park. Ranger talks often meet at the Lincoln Memorial. These free talks take place in the central chamber. Recent subjects include Civil War, Baseball, Lincoln, and Blossoms, which discusses baseball’s connection to the Civil War as well as such subjects as President Lincoln and a Japanese soldier in the 1870s.
What’s Nearby: Visitors to the Lincoln Memorial would be interested in taking in all the sites that the National Mall and Memorial Parks have to offer. Included among them are the World War II Veteran’s Memorial, the Korean War Veteran’s Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial, and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.
Back to: Things to Do in Washington, D.C.
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