The Lincoln Memorial is one of the most important landmarks in Washington DC.
But how much do you actually know about it?
Join me as we explore history and facts about the Lincoln Memorial.
Timing Wasn't Everything Here When it comes to making certain things in
the world, especially monuments that are meant to be honoring certain figures, it's important
to start them, and open them, in a timely manner, or on an important date for the person
President Abraham Lincoln died via assassination in 1865.
So you would think that the country who truly loved this President would want to honor him
as quickly as possible, right?
Well...yes and no.
To their credit, within two years of the death of Abraham Lincoln, Congress had ordered the
formation of a group called the Lincoln Monument Association to oversee and create a monument
that was truly worthy of the former President.
And again, to their credit, they started immediately looking for people who would be able to craft
such a monument.
However, that's kind of where things fell off the rails as it were.
You see, while everyone could agree that Lincoln NEEDED a monument, they couldn't agree on
what kind of monument they needed.
Or what it should be like.
What it should say.
The positioning of Lincoln and so on and so forth.
It's all incredibly petty to be honest with you, but it gets worse.
You see, usually squabbles last a few months, maybe a few years at max.
The association came together in 1867, but the actual construction on the project didn't
begin until 1914!
That's a LONG time of squabbling.
But wait, it gets better.
While parts of the monument were completed by 1917, the monument wasn't completed in
full and opened to the public until 1922 due to World War I and the aftermath following
Imagine how much older the monument would be if they had been able to set aside their
differences and get it done quicker?
The Original Version Of The Statue Was MUCH Different
Ok, I want you right now to picture what the Lincoln Memorial looks like.
Just get an image in your mind of how Lincoln looks, the setting he's in, the look of the
entire memorial, etc.
When you think about the grand image of it all...do you notice that it looks rather...simple?
Think about it, the monument is just Lincoln sitting down in a chair under some famous
words that he said.
It's very simple, very elegant, and very much like Lincoln.
BUT, that wasn't the original concept for the statue.
You see, during the period of time when they were doing the squabbling about how the statue
should look, they honestly did hire a guy to make the statue.
His name was Clark Mills, and he had earned the right to try and design the monument after
he had done an impressive cast of Lincoln's head not long after his death.
He also did a legendary Andrew Jackson statue.
But in terms of his "vision" for the statue, it " involved a 12-foot likeness of Lincoln
signing the Emancipation Proclamation and a collection of 36 bronze figures (six on
horseback) all housed within a 70-foot structure."
That's a very stark contrast to what the statue we have now is.
That's almost like a whole menagerie that is celebrating one person.
Which would be fair given Lincoln's status as a President of history, but still.
Needless to say, that vision for the project was turned down, and the more simpler design
was (eventually) approved.
Location, Location, Location As we've already outlined pretty well for
you, the Lincoln Memorial had many problems in terms of its construction.
But another one came from a very unique source, and for a very fair and logical reason.
You see, the memorial project was shut down for a bit because no one would agree on anything
Eventually, the association was brought back together, but even then they had issues from
people trying to shut it down.
Such as the current Speaker of the House Joe Cannon.
This was a man who did not want the monument built for a whole host of reasons.
For example, Cannon was a man who didn't feel that the government should be spending a whole
lot of money on monuments like these.
Which is fair when you think about it.
But, at the time of the new proposals, one of the places that they wanted to put the
statue was at West Potomac Park.
“So long as I live,” he once told Secretary of War Elihu Root, “I'll never let a memorial
to Abraham Lincoln be erected in that g-------d swamp.”
Eventually, he did help approve the project after some concessions were made, and now
the Lincoln Memorial stands at the west end of National Park, where the surrounding areas
are quite beautiful.
So much so that the memorial is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Washington
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Location, Location, Location Part 2 What's that?
You thought we were done talking about the location issues?
Not even close.
Because Cannon really did put up a fight to make sure it wasn't put at West Potomac Park,
and when looking for other locations to put it in, he and his allies thought that a train
station would be a better "fit" for it.
If you think about it, it kind of makes sense.
It could've been the focal point of it all, everyone who left the trains and go into the
main part of the station would see the statue, it could've been an eye catching moment if
you did it the right way.
And guess what?
This new location was approved for a time by none other than Theodore Roosevelt!
Yeah, he approve it...but then the American Institute of Architects came knocking and
threw some shade at Teddy for ignoring where they wanted to place it, so the West Potomac
area was chosen instead.
At least you tried, Cannon!
At least you tried.
The Entire Memorial Has Greek and Roman Influences When you look at the Lincoln Memorial, you
might not realize it at first, but there's a lot of different elements that were created
by a great many hands.
Daniel Chester French designed the statue of America’s 16th President—which was
produced by a family of Tuscan marble carvers known as the Piccirilli Brothers—and architect
Henry Bacon created the monument building.
But that's not the end of the influencers though.
The Piccirillis for example decided to do something rather special for the part of the
memorial that has Lincoln's arms.
Mainly, they were put on pillars that were made to resemble Roman Faces.
These were bundles of wood that were a symbol in those times of power.
Given that Lincoln had power as the President of the United States, and that he used that
power to free the slaves, that was an appropriate visual statement.
Meanwhile, on the Greek style, you need to look no further than the pillars that help
hold up the Lincoln Memorial building.
If you felt it looked familiar, have you ever heard of the Parthenon?
The Greeks were one of the first nations to truly use Democracy, so it felt appropriate
in their eyes to honor the President by tracing Democracy back through the centuries, citing:
“a memorial to the man who defended democracy should be modeled after a structure from the
birthplace of democracy.”
The Lincoln Temple?
Yeah...remember when I talked about all the many people who were a part of the project?
And remember how I noted that it took a while to settle on a design?
Well, some of the people who wanted to be a part of the project weren't helping in that
You see, there was a man named, John Russell Pope, and he was the chief rival of the architect
of the project (Henry Bacon).
Bacon's designs were a little "out there" in terms of some of the qualities, but when
it came to Pope, he was going WAY outside the box in terms of what he thought would
be best for the memorial.
For example, in regards to the building the statue of Lincoln was supposed to be held
in included a traditional Mayan temple, a Mesopotamian ziggurat, and an Egyptian pyramid.
I mean...do I have to spell out how weird some of those suggestions are?
Mainly that while the US has had people you can trace to Egypt, the Mayan culture and
even Mesopotamia...that doesn't mean that they deserve to be in a monument for an AMERICAN
Could you just imagine how those would've looked?
Or how big they would've likely been if constructed how he felt they should be?
Yeah, we got lucky they chose the Greek design.
Much more basic.
French Made Another Memorable Lincolns Statue One of the reasons that Daniel Chester French
was selected for the Lincoln Memorial project was that he was honestly really good at his
work, and so when he tried to get in on at the start of things (more or less), he actually
made a full-on statue for the Association to look at.
Unlike the one that we all know now, this particular statue was made of Bronze, and
it featured Abraham Lincoln standing upright, having his hands at his waist, and looking
Very much a contemplative stance or something of the like.
Obviously, the statue didn't make it into the main memorial.
However, it was used in Lincoln, Nebraska as a part of the state capital, where you
can see it on the grounds on the building to this day.
Want a fun fact?
Henry Bacon also made the foundation for that statue to sit on.
Lincoln "Grew" To Fit The Room Ok, let's go back to picturing the Lincoln
Not just the statue of Lincoln, but the whole building.
You notice that there is a LOT of empty space in the memorial, right?
That was in part done by intention, but at first, it was going to look a lot different
from the perspective of Lincoln.
You see, when French first mocked up the statue compared to the building, Lincoln himself
was going to be about 10 feet tall.
Making it a tall statue.
However, as he got the blueprints and the scope of the building itself done by Bacon,
he noticed that the GRAND nature of the building was likely going to overshadow Lincoln himself.
So, being a guy who didn't want to be outdone, he basically doubled the size of the Lincoln
As a result, the statue is now 19 feet tall.
It still looks small-ish compared to the building, but it's not anywhere close to where it would've
been if it was 10 feet.
The Foundation Is 40% of the Monument What do you think the dimensions of the Lincoln
I've already outlined that the statue is 19 feet tall, but let's focus on the building
for a sec, how big do you think that building is?
The answer is 99-feet-tall and 202-feet-wide.
Which is an impressive amount of space for sure, but what most people DON'T realize is
that there's an important chunk of the building underground that no one gets to see.
Because to make a building that big, and to make it be made of Marble, you need to make
sure you can support it.
So underneath the ground is a massive foundational slab.
One that extends 66 feet into the Earth itself to make sure that everything on it is safe.
Lincoln Is Doing Sign Language?
If you focus on the hands of Abraham Lincoln, you're going to notice something interesting.
Mainly, the left hand is in a fist-like pose, and the right hand has his fingers wrapped
around the pillar.
But if you focus even closer than that, and you know American Sign Language, it appears
that the left hand is making an "A" sign, and that the right hand is making an "L" sign.
Many have noted this over the years, and wondered if French was responsible for this.
While there is no definitive proof that this was done intentionally, many people believe
it is true.
not the least of which is because Abraham Lincoln was a big proponent of sign language
So much so that he founded a school for the death, and even helped make its charter.
As if that wasn't enough, French had made a statue of the founder of that school.
But if it is, that's one heck of a coincidence.
Timing Did Work Out In The End One of the reasons many people wanted to make
a monument to Abraham Lincoln was that his death at the hand of John Wilkes Booth was
a true tragedy, and Lincoln was one of only a handful of Presidents who have ever been
But, because of the very LONG construction and design process, few who really knew Lincoln
were able to see the unveiling of the monument when it came alive in 1922.
The exception, the really good exception, was that his son was able to see it.
For when the monument was made public in 1922, Robert Todd Lincoln, the last surviving son
of Abraham, was able to see the statue.
If that's not a hallmark moment, I don't know what is.
Thanks for watching everyone!
What did you think of these facts and history notes about the Lincoln Memorial?
Are you impressed by the long and somewhat sorted history of the statue?
Did you learn some things about Lincoln and his memorial that you didn't know before?
Let me know in the comments below, be sure to subscribe, and I'll see you next time on