Abraham Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.

The magnificent Lincoln Memorial dominates the western end of the National Mall. From inside the Greek-inspired temple, Daniel Chester French’s statue of the war-weary president looks out across Washington’s Reflecting Pool. The memorial, which was dedicated in 1922, honors Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War president who preserved the nation only to be assassinated just days after Southern General Robert E. Lee surrendered at the courthouse in Appomattox, Virginia. Planning for a monument to the fallen president began in 1867, but funding and site-selection issues delayed its construction for many years.

In 1901, when the current site was selected, few people could have imagined how the chosen swampy piece of land would be transformed into an awe-inspiring memorial to America’s 16th president, and a symbol of freedom to the nation and the world. Architect Henry Bacon was attached to the project almost from its inception. His years of unpaid work on designs and plans produced a classical Greek temple with 36 Doric columns. The number was meant to signify the states—both Union and former Confederate—at the time of Lincoln’s death.

Carved above the columns are the 48 state names at the time of the memorial’s completion; Alaska and Hawaii are acknowledged on a nearby plaque. Drainage and concrete piers that secure the memorial’s foundation to bedrock were some of the engineering techniques that helped Bacon realize his vision.

The interior chamber houses the memorial’s most inspiring element, the 19-foot white marble statue of Lincoln. The president sits on a throne that displays several classical symbols of authority and power. It is believed that sculptor Daniel Chester French studied photographs of Lincoln taken by Mathew Brady. The face depicted shows the strength of the man who led the nation through some of its darkest days as well as the pain that such leadership entailed.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and his second inaugural address are engraved on the south and north walls, respectively. Murals on these walls were painted by Jules Guerin. How fitting that the monument to the Great Emancipator was also the scene for two of the 20th Century’s most celebrated civil rights events.

Marian Anderson had sung at Carnegie Hall and at many of Europe’s best-known opera houses, but in 1939 the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused to let the African-American singer perform in Washington’s DAR Constitution Hall. After resigning her membership in the DAR, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt helped to arrange for Anderson to give an Easter Sunday concert on the steps of the memorial. More than 75,000 people gathered to hear her sing, while millions listened to the radio broadcast.

With the Lincoln Memorial as his backdrop, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech on August 28, 1963. This speech was the culmination of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and it is estimated that a quarter of a million people were on the Mall to hear King’s inspiring words.

Other Presidential Memorials in Washington include the Jefferson Memorial, Roosevelt Memorial and Washington Monument.

by Katie Calvert