DC Explorer: The Lincoln Memorial

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American Nomad continues its tour of Washington D.C.’s National Mall with a visit to The Lincoln Memorial.

Located on the eastern end of the National Mall across from The Washington Monument, The Lincoln Memorial is a pilgrimmage site for over six million visitors each year. The memorial pays homage to the beloved President, who sacrificed everything for the unity of American democracy.

President Abraham Lincoln served as the sixteenth president of the United States during the most tumultuous days of our nation’s history. His leadership through The Civil War provided fortitude and strength for the divided nation. In spite of all the differences from North and South and beyond, he believed in the very heart of the idea of a democratic union.

I was fortunate enough to visit Lincoln’s birthplace and also his boyhood home in Kentucky several years ago. Lincoln’s background is interesting – born in Kentucky (a slave holding state), to poor farmers, Lincoln’s love of reading and quick wit helped him rise in prominence as an attorney.

Lincoln’s background from Kentucky to Illinois to Washington was a living reflection, not only of the American dream, but the intense turmoil of what the American Republic should be. He grew up on the battlelines of slave vs free states; and the fight for opportunity for education and economic stability.

I often think of Lincoln as an American saint, though not canonized, his spirit was truly for the American people and woking past differences to ensure a future freedom for all Americans – no matter their race or religion or economic make-up.

The Lincoln Memorial, although a monument to a President who helped save our union, speaks to me as a monument to the spirit of America and our accountability to pursue and hold ourselves accountable to the pursuit of happiness – freedom and tolerance. We can speak to our ideals for freedom, but we also need to sacrifice at times for that freedom and the good of our fellow humanity. Lincoln embodied that American spirit and the memorial should spark a fire of service and accountability as citizens.

Lincoln Memorial Facts:

  • Completed in 1922, it honors the 16th President, Abraham Lincoln who led the United States through The Civil War. Lincoln was assasinated on April 15 1865 at Ford’s Theatre by Confederate actor John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln in life and death gave everything for the country he loved. Learn more here.

  • The Memorial was designed by Henry Bacon and is styled after the Parthenon in Athens. The theme of the building represents the Union. The 36 columns on the outside walls stand for the thirty-six states in the Union at the time of Lincoln’s death. The names of the forty-eight states in the Union when the memorial was completed are carved along the outside of the memorial. A plaque honors Alaska and Hawaii (admitted as states after 1922) in the approach plaza near the memorial.

  • The Memorial is 190 feet by 118 feet and 99 feet high

  • The Memorial honors the virtues of tolerance, honesty and constancy in the human spirit, which President Lincoln embodied

  • The idea for the Lincoln Memorial was proposed as early as 1867, but the project did not begin until 1915, when the first cornerstone was laid.

  • The Lincoln Memorial was completedin 1922. Lincoln’s only surviving son, Robert Todd Lincoln attended the dedication. Fun fact: after his father’s death, Robert Todd Lincoln entered the field of law and became a successful attorney in Chicago.
  • The serene reflecting pool separates The Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. The rectangular reflecting pool is 2,028 feet long and 167 feet wide. The glassy pool can reflect the Lincoln Memrial, the Washington Monument and ros of shade trees that line the peaceful serene space.

  • The statue of Lincoln was designed by renowned sculptor, Daniel Chester French, who also designed The Minute Men statue in Concord, MA.

  • The statue of Lincoln is made of 28 blocks of White Georgia Marble. It took French a year to carve his design into the marble.
    • The statue was assembled in DC by the Piccirrili Brothers – a renowned Italian-American family of marble carvers. They worked closely with French on many important projects throughout the United States, including The Lincoln Memorial.
  • The statue is a 19-foot seated figure of Lincoln on an armchair and footrest. Lincoln gazes straight ahead towards the Washington Monument – his expression one of gravity and solemnity. French used photographs of Lincoln to create his image. His goal was not one of a perfect man, but rather a leader carrying the weight of his nation and the hope of its future.
    • I recently visited Florence, Italy and in a way this reminds me of the use of tension, Michelangelo used in his David. French masterfully shows a leader who cares deeply for the nation.
    • Lincoln’s hands tell a story:
      • Left hand is clenched with the doggedly perseverance to keep fighting for the unity of the nation. This fist, isn’t one that is relying on self-confidence or a lack of anxiety – but rather that undaunted courage to take on those fears and not give up. That symbolism reminds me of what we are all called to do as Americans (or humans) – be willing to keep going even when things are tough and fight for the good of the other as much as ourselves.
      • His right hand is open as a sign of grace; 1) a symbol to the Conferate states of forgiveness and desire for reconciliation 2)A universal symbolism of the openness of American freedom
  • The statue and base weighs 175 tons!
  • There are eighty-seven steps to the interior of the Lincoln Memorial – you’ll get your steps in DC!
  • On the inside walls of the memorial you’ll find the engraved words of the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address of 1865
  • The Lincoln Memorial has played a pivotal role in human rights and a pulpit against inequality. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his important ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech on the steps of The Lincoln Memorial on August 28th 1963 during The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom
    • The spot where King gave his speech is marked on the steps of The Lincoln Memorial.
      • MLK also has his own memorial nearThe National Mall...click here for more info
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Planning your visit:

The Lincoln Memorial is one of the most popular attractions in DC and it can get very busy. I personally like visiting the Memorial at night, just after sunset. It is lit up as a beacon on The Mall. If you visit during the day you can catch NPS Ranger Led tours and visit the museum/gift shop.

Click here for hours and information.

Stay tuned…we’ll be exploring more National Mall sites and The Smithsonian in the coming week!

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Purpose of American Nomad: To share my love of travel, history and museums with others.

About: American Nomad is written by Adele Lassiter, a travel enthusiast with a background in history, art and technology sales. In addition to running American Nomad, Adele is an artist and published author of cozy romances. Check out her cozy romance novel, Solitude Lake on Amazon (Adele Darcy)

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