Abraham Lincoln was elected to the office of US President in 1860. Only a short time later – on April 12, 1861 – the civil war began after the slave question in particular had divided the country. The American Civil War between the Northern and Southern states would last until June 23, 1865 and ended with the restoration of the Union and the abolition of slavery.
Lincoln never lived to see the end of the war. He was assassinated on April 14, 1865 and succumbed to his injuries the following day. His successes, his speeches and his violent death made Lincoln a hero and in the eyes of many people one of the most important presidents in US history. And so it was only a matter of time before a memorial was erected in honor of the President of the American Civil War and the liberator of slaves, which today is one of the most famous buildings in Washington with over 7 million visitors a year.
From the first plans to the inauguration
However, until the time came, there were some hurdles to overcome. There was not always agreement, and the choice of location and shape of the future monument in particular caused heated discussions. It all began in 1910 when Congressmen Shelby M. Cullom and Joseph G. Cannon campaigned for a memorial to be erected and eventually achieved the creation of the Lincoln Memorial Commission. In addition, US $ 2 million was made available for the construction of the monument. A million more should ultimately be needed to complete the monument.
Many ideas were exchanged, ranging from a highway to a giant pyramid, until the current shape was finally agreed. In 1915 the foundation stone for the memorial was laid. And then, 57 years after Lincoln’s death, on May 30, 1922, the time had come. The Lincoln Memorial was dedicated to its destination in a solemn ceremony.
Paradoxically, the celebrations for the man, whose name is inextricably linked to the equality of people regardless of their origin, were strictly separated by skin color. Even Dr. Robert Moton, the President of the Tuskegee Institute, who gave a speech, was not allowed to sit on the speaker’s platform, but had to sit in an area reserved for African Americans.
The Lincoln Memorial and the Civil Rights Movement
The Lincoln Memorial has served as the site of many civil rights demonstrations, of which the “March on Washington for Work and Freedom” with Martin Luther King’s fiery speech to over 250,000 people on August 28, 1963, the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, is arguably the best known.
The Lincoln Memorial today
If you stroll along the National Mall from east to west you come to a long reflection pool, behind which a 30-meter-high structure rises up, surrounded by green spaces and reminiscent of a Greek temple. 36 Doric columns enclose its interior, which stand for the 36 states that were part of the United States during Lincoln’s lifetime. Later states are carved around the roof, while the two most recent, Alaska and Hawaii, are immortalized on two plaques in the floor of the memorial.
A few steps lead into the interior of the memorial designed by New York architect Henry Bacon and to a five-foot-tall and 175-ton man who sits in his chair and looks out over the National Mall. It was Daniel Chester French, the most important sculptor of the time, who created this image of Abraham Lincoln from 28 blocks of white marble after he had abandoned his original idea of creating a bronze statue only three meters high, as this was in comparison to him seemed too tiny for the colossal structure.
The words Royal Cortissoz are carved above the statue:
“AS IN THE HEARTS OF THE PEOPLE
FOR WHOM HE SAVED THE UNION
THE MEMORY OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN
IS ENSHRINED FOREVER”
To the left of the statue, under the mural “Emancipation” by Jules Guerin, is the Bliss version of Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address”, one of the most famous speeches of the US President, in which he summarized the democratic self-image of the United States in 1863. It is considered a rhetorical masterpiece and is part of the historical and cultural heritage of the USA.
Lincoln’s second inaugural address from March 1865 is carved into the north wall. Here, too, we find a painting by Jules Guerin: “Reunion”. Below the Lincoln Memorial is a museum dedicated to the life of Abraham Lincoln.
Planned renovations over the next four years
A $ 18.5 million donation from billionaire David Rubenstein will allow the Lincoln Memorial to undergo major renovations over the next four years. In addition to cleaning work on the interior and exterior facades, repairing the roof and repairing earthquake damage, the wall paintings are also to be restored and the antiquated toilets replaced. There are also plans to enlarge the exhibition space (from 750 to 15,000 m2) and the memorial bookshop, and to add to exhibitions. A second elevator is also to be installed. The Lincoln Memorial stands due to the soft soil in the former marshland on the Potomac on 20 meter deep concrete foundations and pile structures that will be made accessible to visitors in the future.
For the first time, the charcoal drawings that workers left there during the seven-year construction period would also be on view. These include, for example, caricatures of former President William Howard Taft and the architect Henry Bacon.
The Lincoln Memorial will remain open during restoration work. However, it is possible that individual parts of the building are blocked from time to time.
Directions and general information
The Lincoln Memorial is at the west end of the National Mall. It is subordinate to the National Park Service, whose employees are on duty from 9:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Parking in the vicinity of the attraction is particularly limited in the evening and at night. It is therefore advisable to use public transport (e.g. Metro to Foggy Bottom or Smithonian).
Find within the National Mall regular events instead of.
Address and opening times
- Lincoln Memorial
- West Potomac Park,
- Washington DC
- Opening times: open all day