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The Lincoln Memorial at 100


Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial was dedicated 100 years ago, on May 30, 1922. At that time, Memorial Day was known as Decoration Day. Lincoln’s only surviving son, Robert Todd Lincoln, attended the dedication ceremony. The ceremony included the following speakers: President Warren G. Harding, former President and Chief Justice of the United States William Howard Taft (who also served as chairman of the Lincoln Memorial Commission, which had overseen the design and construction of the memorial) and Dr. Roberty Russa Moton, principal of the Tuskegee institute, along with a crown of 50,000 and several million more listening on radio, which was a new medium at the time.

The memorial, which took 7 years to build, honors Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States. The exterior of the memorial, designed by Henry Bacon, was inspired by the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, and is 190 feet long, 120 feet wide, 99 feet tall and constructed with Colorado Yule marble. There are 36 columns of Colorado marble on the exterior, one for each state in the Union at the time of Lincoln’s death in 1865; each column stands 44 feet high.

The names of the 48 contiguous states are listed above the colonnade, and the dates of their admission to the Union are engraved in Roman numerals. Because Hawaii and Alaska attained statehood several decades after the Lincoln Memorial was finished, their names are inscribed on a plaque located on the front steps.

Statue of Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial

The interior features a 19-foot statue of Lincoln, seated in a chair. The statue was created by Daniel Chester French. French depicted the president as a worn but strong individual who had endured many hardships. He positioned Lincoln’s hands in a manner that displayed his two leading qualities. His left hands is clenched, representing his strength and determination to see the war through to a successful conclusion. His right hand is a more open, slightly more relaxed hand representing his compassionate, warm nature. The Georgia white marble sculpture weighs 175 tons and had to be shipped in 28 separate pieces.


Engravings of his two greatest speeches, the Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address, along with murals of depictions of his greatest accomplishments as president – the reunification of the United States following the Civil War and the emancipation of more than 4 million enslaved persons – appear on the interior walls.


As one of the most recognized buildings in the world, the Lincoln Memorial has become a symbol of the United States of America, a backdrop for national celebrations and the nation’s pre-eminent stage for the rallies and demonstrations, particularly those for civil rights, and a centerpiece for many of our photo safaris on the National Mall.


Photos by Sherryl Belinsky