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Fodor's Washington, D.C. 2014
Lincoln Memorial Review
Many consider the Lincoln Memorial the most inspiring monument in Washington, but that hasn't always been the case: early detractors thought it inappropriate that a president known for his humility should be honored with what some felt amounts to a grandiose Greek temple. The memorial was intended to be a symbol of national unity, but over time it has come to represent social justice and civil rights.
Daniel Chester French's statue of the seated president gazes out over the Reflecting Pool. The 19-foot-high sculpture is made of 28 pieces of Georgia marble.
The surrounding white Colorado-marble memorial was designed by Henry Bacon and completed in 1922. The 36 Doric columns represent the 36 states in the Union at the time of Lincoln's death; their names appear on the frieze above the columns. Over the frieze are the names of the 48 states in existence when the memorial was dedicated. Alaska and Hawaii are represented with an inscription on the terrace leading up to the memorial. At night the memorial is illuminated, creating a striking play of light and shadow across Lincoln's face.
Two of Lincoln's great speeches—the second inaugural address and the Gettysburg Address—are carved on the north and south walls. Above each is a Jules Guerin mural: the south wall has an angel of truth freeing a slave; the unity of North and South is opposite.
The memorial's powerful symbolism makes it a popular gathering place: In its shadow Americans marched for integrated schools in 1958, rallied for an end to the Vietnam War in 1967, and laid wreaths in a ceremony honoring the Iranian hostages in 1979. It may be best known, though, as the site of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.
The power of pennies? On the lower level of the memorial is a small museum financed with pennies collected by schoolchildren.
Lincoln's face and hands look especially lifelike because they're based on castings done while he was president. Those who know sign language might recognize that the left hand is shaped like an A and the right like an L. It's unlikely this was intentional, but the sculptor, Daniel Chester French, did have a deaf son.
Marchers flock to the Lincoln every year, drawing attention to various causes.
Lincoln's famous Emancipation Proclamation, which set the stage for ending slavery, is on display several times per year at the National Archives ([E]Constitution Ave., between 7th and 9th sts.)
See where Lincoln was shot (on April 14, 1865) at Ford's Theatre ([E]511 10th St. NW).
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