Today marks the anniversary of the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in 1922. It’s definitely one of the most distinguishable landmarks in Washington D.C., a place that certainly isn’t lacking in memorable monuments. But how much do you really know about the famous tribute? I’ve tracked down some interesting tidbits for you to add to your arsenal of info.
1. It took 50 years to happen
Abraham Lincoln died on April 15, 1865. Just under two years later, in March 1867, the Lincoln Monument Association was incorporated by Congress to build an appropriate memorial to our 16th president. Apparently that was the easy part. It took the next 34 years to choose a location, and when one was finally chosen in 1901, the area was all swampland. It was another 10 years before the monument was authorized by Congress, and on February 12, 1914 (Lincoln’s birthday) the first stone was officially put into place. Eight years later, the dedication ceremony took place and was attended by Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd. The monument was dedicated by William Howard Taft.
2. The symbolism of the columns
There are 36 columns featured on the Lincoln Memorial. It wasn’t planned this way, but the columns were eventually said to represent the 25 U.S. states at the time of Lincoln’s death, plus the 11 seceded states. The names of the 48 states at the time of the monument’s completion were written around the top; a plaque recognizes the later additions of Alaska and Hawaii in 1959.
3. It’s been the site of some interesting events
Most people probably know that Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech took place at the Lincoln Memorial to honor Lincoln for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation.
But it was also where Richard Nixon tried to appeal to Vietnam War protestors a few days after the Kent State shootings. About 30 students were holding a vigil at the monument in the wee hours of the morning. At about 4:15 a.m., Nixon showed up to have a little chat with them. Neither side could be swayed from their opinions.
Also, for President Bush’s 2001 inauguration, the Rockettes danced down the steps while performing their famous leg kicks. Not sure how I feel about that one.
4. The inscriptions
Stop squinting at the pictures – here’s what the inscription over Lincoln’s head says:
“IN THIS TEMPLE
AS IN THE HEARTS OF THE PEOPLE
FOR WHOM HE SAVED THE UNION
THE MEMORY OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN
IS ENSHRINED FOREVER.”
You’ll also find the text of two of Lincoln’s most famous speeches – the Gettysburg address, of course, and his second inaugural address. On this one, the word “future” was accidentally carved with an “E” instead of an “F” and had to be fixed. To this day, you can see where the error happened.
5. The stats
Lincoln himself is 19 feet, nine inches tall – but keep in mind that he’s sitting down. The stone for the building is Indiana limestone and Yule marble; Lincoln is made of 28 blocks of Georgian marble. There are 98 steps that go from Lincoln to the reflecting pool, but the number has no significance. The Memorial is on the “tails” side of the penny, and if you look really close you can see a little figure of Lincoln etched in his proper place in the monument. The Memorial is also on the five dollar bill (although I’m sure you already knew that).
6. Is Lincoln using sign language?
If you look close at Lincoln’s hands, his left hand looks like an “A” in American Sign Language and his right hand looks like an “L”. Although the National Park Service denies that the positioning was intended, there might be some truth to this story. Sculptor David Chester French was quite familiar with ASL – his son was deaf. Furthermore, Lincoln signed federal legislation giving Gallaudet University, a college for the deaf, the right to give out “official” college degrees. So it’s very possible that French snuck the reference in as a way to recognize Lincoln’s contributions to the deaf.
7. The Lincoln Memorial goes high-tech
If you’re headed to D.C. and didn’t have time to do your research beforehand, no worries – your cell phone will provide all of the information you need. You can dial (202) 747-3420 to hear park rangers talk about 10 different themes, including “Debunking the Myths of the Lincoln Memorial” and “The Life and Times of Lincoln the Man”. Although I suppose you don’t have to be at the monument to hear the rangers talk – you can dial in from your couch if you really want to.
8. Are Robert E. Lee and Abraham Lincoln the same man?
You know in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone where Voldemort appears on the back of the head of poor Professor Quirrell? Apparently there’s been a rumor circulating for years that the same thing is true of Lincoln and Lee. Supposedly, there’s an outline of Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee’s face carved on the back of the Lincoln statue. This has been repeatedly refuted, but the rumor still lurks.