Even if you have never been able to visit the Lincoln Memorial in person, you have most likely seen it many times. An image of the monument to the 16th President is on United States currency, appearing on both the back of the five dollar bill and the reverse side of all pennies minted prior to 2009. With five dollars and one cent in my pocket on this ride, I rode to the Lincoln Memorial, located at the west end of the National Mall (MAP), across from The Washington Monument.
The Lincoln Memorial was designed by architect Henry Bacon after ancient Greek temples, and stands 190 feet long, is 119 feet wide and almost 100 feet high, with a cement foundation that is 60 feet deep. It is surrounded by 36 enormous columns, one for each of the states in the Union at the time of Lincoln’s death. By the time the monument was completed, the Union had increased by 12 more states, so the names of all 48 states were carved on the outside of the walls of the memorial. Following the admission of Alaska and Hawaii as states, a plaque with the names of these new states was added. The statue of the President, which was sculpted by Daniel Chester French, is 19 feet high and weighs 175 tons. The original plan was for the statue to be only ten feet high, but this was changed so that the figure of Lincoln would not be dwarfed by the size of the chamber in which it sits. The north and south side chambers contain inscriptions of two well-known speeches by President Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address and his second presidential inauguration address in 1865, the latter of which contains a fairly well-known mistake.
Roughly two years following Lincoln’s death in 1865, the U.S. Congress appointed the Lincoln Monument Association to build a memorial to commemorate the assassinated President. However, the site for the memorial was not chosen until 1901. Another decade later, President William Howard Taft signed a bill to provide funding for the memorial, and construction began the following month, on February 12th, to commemorate Lincoln’s 102nd birthday. The Presidential memorial was finally completed and opened to the public in 1922. On May 30, 1922, Former President and then Supreme Court Chief Justice William Howard Taft and Robert Todd Lincoln, the only surviving child of Lincoln’s four children, lead the monument’s dedication ceremony.
Over the years, the Lincoln Memorial has been the site of a number of famous events, including protests, concerts and speeches. Perhaps the most famous of which occurred on August 28, 1963. The Memorial’s grounds were the site of the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” which proved to be a high point of the American Civil Rights Movement. It is estimated that over a quarter of a million people participated in the event. It was then that Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the memorial. The location where King delivered the speech is commemorated with an inscription carved into the steps.
Today, the Lincoln Memorial receives almost four million visitors per year. Admission is free, and it is open to the public 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – except Christmas Day. The memorial is administered by the National Park Service, and provides Park Service rangers on site from 9:30 am until 11:30 pm each day it is open to address questions about the Memorial.