The Lincoln Memorial
As people pass the tall Colorado yule marble columns and enter the chamber of our nation’s memorial to Abraham Lincoln, they will, with little doubt, be awe-struck by Daniel Chester French’s enormous marble carving of our nation’s sixteenth president.
The statue, is made up of not just one stone, but 28 blocks placed together to make one figure, just like our nation and just as Lincoln believed, to be one nation, it takes all the states connected together to make the whole. Maybe eyes attention will go to the rods wrapped together in the arms of Lincoln’s chair. The chair is just like the nation. It would not stand if any of the rods fell out. Lincoln wanted to keep the states bound together as one. However, in final analysis, what might draw the eye most about the statue could be something as simple as his hands and these may tell us the most about who he was.
The Lincoln Memorial interior is divided into three chambers (north, south, and central). Two rows of four Ionic columns separate the chambers. Gaze up at these 50 foot high columns. The columns support the memorial ceiling, towering 60 feet above the floor. The glowing ceiling is framed by bronze girders, ornamented with laurel and oak leaves. Between the girders are panels of Alabama marble, saturated with paraffin to increase their translucency. Together these larger than life elements envelop the larger than life statue of Abraham Lincoln to create an atmosphere of quiet reflection and awe.
The north and south side chambers contain carved inscriptions of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address and his Gettysburg Address. Bordering these inscriptions are pilasters ornamented with fasces, eagles, and wreaths. The inscriptions and adjoining ornamentation were done by Evelyn Beatrice Longman. The epitaph behind the Lincoln statue was drafted by Royal Cortissoz. Above each of the speech inscriptions is a 60 foot by twelve foot mural painted by Jules Guerin graphically portraying governing principles evident in Lincoln’s life. Visit the Lincoln Memorial Murals page to learn more!
Lying between the north and south chambers is the central hall containing the solitary figure of Lincoln sitting in contemplation. The statue was carved by the Piccirilli brothers under the supervision of the sculptor, Daniel Chester French, and took four years to complete. Daniel Chester French devoted several years to researching Abraham Lincoln and studying photographs of him. French decided that the special qualities found in the sixteenth president were his strength combined with his compassionate nature. In what ways did French portray these characteristics in his statue? French depicted the president as a worn but strong individual who had endured many hardships. He positioned Lincoln’s hands in a manner that displayed his two leading qualities. One of the president’s hands is clenched, representing his strength and determination to see the war through to a successful conclusion. The other hand is a more open, slightly more relaxed hand representing his compassionate, warm nature.
The statue, originally intended to be only 10 feet tall, was on further consideration enlarged so that it finally stood 19 feet tall from head to foot, the scale being such that if Lincoln were standing he would be 28 feet tall. The extreme width of the statue is the same as its height, 19 feet. The Georgia white marble sculpture weighs 175 tons and had to be shipped in 28 separate pieces. The statue rests upon an oblong pedestal of Tennessee marble 10 feet high, 16 feet wide, and 17 feet deep. Directly beneath this lies a platform of Tennessee marble 34 feet 5 inches long, 28 feet 1 inch wide, and 6 inches high. The statue is subtly bordered by two pilasters, one on each side. Between these pilasters and above Lincoln’s head lies an engraved inscription.
Architect Henry Bacon modeled the Lincoln Memorial after the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. Bacon felt that a memorial dedicated to a man who defended democracy should echo the birthplace of democracy. The towering memorial is 190 feet long, 120 feet wide, 99 feet tall and constructed with a Colorado-Yule marble.
For almost a century, the Lincoln Memorial steps witnessed history-making moments such as the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, the Marion Anderson concert and the daily secular pilgrimage of thousands. The steps begin at the edge of the Reflecting Pool, and rise up to the former roadbed of the circular roadway that surrounded the memorial – now a plaza. The steps then continue upward toward the memorial entrance, pausing on its ascent in a series of platforms.
Flanking the steps are two buttresses each crowned with an 11 foot tall tripod carved from pink Tennessee marble.The memorial is surrounded by 36 fluted Doric columns, one for each of the 36 states in the Union at the time of Lincoln’s death. When you walk up the steps, two additional columns are located at the entrance behind the colonnade. These columns are 44 feet tall with a base diameter of seven feet and five inches. Each column is composed of 12 individual drums. The columns, like the exterior walls and facades, are inclined slightly inward. This is to compensate for perspective distortions which would otherwise make the memorial appear asymmetrical.