The Lincoln Memorial anchors one end of the national mall in Washington, DC. Two miles straight down the mall is the Capitol. And about halfway in between is the Washington Monument. The sight of this memorial as you approach is stirring
With its distinctive massive columns rising from the top of stone steps, the Lincoln Memorial honors the life and achievements of the 16th president of the United States. Lincoln steered the country during a time of divide, war, racial tension, and flaring tempers. His calm resolve to preserve the union and, eventually, to abolish slavery, brought the U.S. through dark days.
When Was the Lincoln Memorial Built?
The Architecture and Features of the Memorial
The Lincoln Memorial is modeled after the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. Architect Henry Bacon felt that a memorial dedicated to a man who defended democracy should echo the birthplace of democracy. The towering memorial, made out of marble, is 190 feet long, 120 feet wide, and 99 feet tall.
The memorial is distinguished for its 36 fluted Doric columns, one for each of the 36 states in the Union when Lincoln died. Each column is 44 feet tall.
Look up to see the frieze with the names of the 36 states and the dates each entered the Union. At the top of the memorial, the names of the 48 states at the time of the dedication are inscribed. Alaska and Hawaii were added later.
The Chambers of the Memorial
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 to the lovely ceiling.
Also inscribed are these now-famous words of Lincoln from his Second Inaugural Address in March 1865:
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool
The view from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial features the beautiful Reflecting Pool. Visit at different times of day, if you can, to see this pool in various lights. Sunset can be a stunning time to see the Reflecting Pool. And you can stand at the far end of the water and look back at the Lincoln Memorial to see it reflected in the pool.
Visit Nearby Ford’s Theater
The Civil War raged for four long years, bringing agony and grief. In April of 1864, General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant, and peace would soon follow. That same month, President Abraham Lincoln headed to Ford’s Theater for an evening of respite from his duties.
The story is well known and tragic. John Wilkes Booth, an actor familiar with the layout of Ford’s Theater, approached the Lincoln viewing box during the performance and shot him in the head. Booth then leaped from the box down to the floor and escaped.
The theater is open to the public, so you can tour and see the Lincoln family’s viewing box. The seats are a memorial to Lincoln.
A small museum in the entry hall shows exhibits about Lincoln’s years as president. You can then enter the theater and settle into a plush red seat. Look up to see the site of the shooting and imagine the scene and chaos of that night.
The Petersen House
The wounded president was carried across the street to the Petersen House. He died there in that rowhouse of his injuries on April 15, 1865.
The Petersen house is closed for renovation, but a small museum has opened next door that displays items from Lincoln’s life. The book tower soaring two stories high is made of books published about Lincoln.
Other memorabilia from the house is in Ford’s Theater.
Events at the Lincoln Memorial
Since its opening, the Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool have been the site of gatherings, marches, and historic events.
Martin Luther King, Jr. stood atop the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 and spoke to hundreds of people spread out before him on the national mall. His words, “I have a dream,” rang out in front of Lincoln’s sculpture, inspiring America to take another step toward the founder’s vision of equality.
This was fitting because Lincoln was the president who issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, a giant step toward freeing slaves even while the Civil War raged on.
Abraham Lincoln as President
His life cut short at the crucial moment when the nation would need to heal, Lincoln achieved what he could, but his task was unfinished. The U.S. struggles all these years later with the issues Lincoln wrestled with so long ago. But it’s clear that he believed unity and justice could triumph.
In his first inaugural address in March 1861, just a few months before the Civil War broke out, Lincoln laid out his vision:
“The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Historian Jon Meacham summed up how history would view Lincoln: “Perfection was impossible; greatness was reserved for those who managed to move forward in an imperfect world.”
The Lincoln Memorial is open to the public without charge. Check the website for more information to plan your visit.
For more information and to plan a trip, visit the National Park site. And these guides have so much helpful information on visiting Washington, D.C.
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