Lincoln Memorial is one of the most remarkable monuments in the country, but how well do you know it?
In a city full of icons one stands out from the crowd. Lincoln Memorial is perhaps one of the most iconic monuments in the US. It has appeared in countless movies, our bills and the back of our pennies, not to mention it’s been the setting for many historic speeches. But despite being one of the best-known monuments in the country, Lincoln Memorial sure knows how to keep a secret. So without further ado, here’s 10 monumental facts you may not have known about Lincoln Memorial!
1. The Memorial project succeeded with a little help from Lincoln’s friends
Five bills for the construction of Lincoln Memorial had been rejected until senator Shelby Collum and Speaker of the House Joseph Cannon allied to pass the sixth and final bill. Both men had known Lincoln during his time in Illinois. They managed to push the Memorial bill through and President Taft signed it in 1911.
2. Lincoln Memorial is the second one dedicated to President Lincoln
Well before the bill for the now-famous Memorial was approved by Congress, the people of Washington DC commemorated America’s 16th president with a much more modest commission. Locals raised $25,000 for a standing statue of President Lincoln by artist Lot Flannery. The statue was erected on Apr 15, 1868–the third anniversary of Lincoln’s death–on the steps of what was then the City Hall, now the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. It still stands there today.
3. The monument almost took the shape of a pyramid
We may not be able to imagine DC’s landscape without the iconic Greek temple. But what if it had been a pyramid instead? Congress considered several different designs before Henry Bacon’s Greek-inspired building won. Amongst them were John Russell Pope’s wacky designs which involved building Lincoln Memorial in the shape of a Mayan temple, a Mesopotamian Ziggurat or an Ancient Egyptian pyramid!
4. The monument has exactly 87 steps
From the Reflecting Pool all the way up to the temple there are exactly “four score” an “seven” steps, reminiscent of Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Adress. The National Park Service (NPS) says the number of steps wasn’t intentional, but we think its a very appropriate climb nonetheless.
5. There’s a typo on the wall
As you probably already know, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Adress and Second Inaugural Adress are carved onto the walls of the temple. While President Lincoln delivered his speeches with impeccable oratory, the carver in charge of etching these in stone wasn’t quite as flawless. On the Second Inaugural Adress, you’ll find that the engraved carved the letter “E” instead of an “F” spelling “eurture” on the phrase ” high hope for the future.” The letter was quickly recarved so it wouldn’t be readily obvious, but if you look close enough you’ll still be able to see the carver’s mistake.
6. The president’s statue is a little bit bigger than originally intended…
Daniel Chester French’s original blueprints included a 10-feet tall Lincoln but as construction went, French made the statue almost doubled its size so as to not let it be dwarfed by Bacon’s monumental temple. If the 19-feet tall Lincoln were to stand up (although we really hope he doesn’t 😳) he would be a whopping 27 feet high. A very fitting colossal statue for such a colossally tall man.
7.Lincoln’s allegedly pulling signs
Urban legend says French purposely laid out the President’s hands to spell the letters “A” and “L” in American Sign Language. NSP has never confirmed this theory but there’s compelling evidence that suggests this might be true. One of French’s earlier sculptures was that of deaf pioneer Gallaudet where he was teaching a student the letter “A.” French is also known to have tweaked his original model for Lincoln’s right hand from a clenched fist to a more relaxed, open hand.
8. Legend says there’s a face carved on the back of Lincoln’s head
Continuing on legendary paths, another popular myth claims there’s a face carved on the back of Lincoln’s hair. Nobody seems to agree, however, on whether that face is Daniel Chester French’s or Lincoln’s Southern foe, General Robert E. Lee’s. We’ll have to wait for someone to climb up Lincoln’s back and bust this myth.
9. Lincoln Memorial is linked to the home of his Civil War enemy
Speaking of General Lee…The Arlington Memorial Bridge stretches out over the Potomac just behind Lincoln Memorial. It’s meant to symbolically link the Memorial with the home of Lincoln’s enemy as a sign of reconciliation and reunification.
10. Not all you see of Lincoln Memorial is what you get
Did you know that if you visit Lincoln Memorial you won’t see the monument in its entirety? About 40% of the monument is actually hidden underground in the shape of a giant, cathedral-like vault. This underground chamber, colloquially known as the Lincoln undercroft serves as a foundation for the heavy marble monument sitting on top of it. Just as beautiful and monumental as the temple it supports the Lincoln undercroft was perhaps the monument’s best-kept secret until now. Undergoing renovations at the memorial will soon allow visitors to take a peek into this hidden underground chamber.
Feature image: Zetong Li, Unsplash