The Rich History of the Lincoln Memorial


| LAST UPDATE 05/29/2022

By Hayden Katz
abraham lincoln memorial history
zimmytws via Getty Images

Back on Memorial Day of 1922, the Lincoln Memorial was founded in Washington D.C., and since then, visitors have formed a strong connection with the statue. Mainly because the colossal statues initiated a new type of commemoration, which was based on realism. 100 years later, and still, thousands of people go to take a look at the National Mall to see the sculptor of our 16th president., Abraham Lincoln. Here's the history of the infamous figure.

The two main reasons why the Lincoln Memorial has been influential are symbolism and scale. “As far as monuments go, this is a really, really good one,” explained Harry Rubenstein, curator emeritus for the division of political history at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. “It has that temple-like quality, and the statue reveals itself slowly as you walk up the steps—it doesn’t hit you all at once. And as you move up, you are made small by this incredible statue.”

abraham lincoln memorial history
Marc Dozier via Getty Images
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When anyone goes up the stairs, they will come face to face with a seated Lincoln, who was carved to be making a pondering and worn out facial expression. “It was Lincoln, under stress, who had the burdens of presidency and the war. Those are the photos [the sculptor, Daniel Chester French] had to work with, not those of a young Lincoln,” revealed Rubenstein.

Around his shoulders are the Stars and Stripe, possibly to mark the weight of the new nation on his back. But that is only an assumption since no one is quite sure what French meant by symbolism through his work. “He seldom spoke about his work,” noted Harold Holzer, author of Monument Man: The Life and Art of Daniel Chester French. “My favorite French quote on this was: ‘A statue has to speak for itself, and it seems useless to explain to everyone what it means. I have no doubt that people will read into my statue of Lincoln a great deal I did not consciously think. Whether it will be for good or ill, who can say?’” This year the statue will be celebrating its centennial, giving people a chance to go and see the memorial with their very own eyes and understand the impact it has had on American history...

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