Lincoln Memorial Facts and Fallacies

atkins-bookshelf-triviaNovember 19, 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, one of the greatest speeches of all time. To honor Lincoln, Bookshelf presents a collection of facts and fallacies about the Lincoln Memorial located in Washington, D.C., one of the greatest architectural treasures of the United States.

Construction: began on February 12, 1914 and was completed and dedicated on May 30, 1922.
Cost of memorial: $2,957,000
Design: The initial design by American sculptor Clark Mills was abandoned in favor of architect Henry Bacon’s design inspired by the Parthenon located in Athens, Greece. The memorial is surrounded by fluted Doric columns. The interior is divided into three chambers by two rows of Ionic columns. The central chamber contains a massive sculpture of Lincoln sitting in a chair, the north chamber displays the the carved inscription of the president’s second inaugural address, while the south chamber displays the Gettysburg address.
Types of marble used: exterior is Colorado white marble, interior walls and columns are Indiana limestone, chamber floor is Tennessee pink marble, sculpture is Georgia white marble, and skylights are Alabama marble.
Dimensions of exterior building: 189.7 by 118.5 feet, 99 feet tall
Weight of memorial: 38,000 tons
Foundation: piles extend 44 to 65 feet down to reach bedrock
Number of Doric columns: 36 (one for each of the 36 states in the Union in 1865); 2 were added behind the colonnade at the entrance; 44 feet tall
Number of steps: 58 steps from the chamber to the plaza level and 29 steps from the plaza level to the reflecting pool, for a total of 87 steps — or four score and seven steps

Sculptors: the Piccirilli Brothers (Giuseppe and his six sons, originally from Tuscany, Italy) under the supervision of American sculpture Daniel Chester French.
Time to carve statue: 4 years
Dimensions of statue: 19 feet tall, 19 feet wide
Weight of sculpture: 175 tons
Cost of statue: $88,400
Inscription behind statue: An epitaph written by Royal Cortissoz, an American art historian and art critic for the New York Herald Tribune, that reads: “In this temple as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever” 

1. Is Lincoln buried under the Lincoln Memorial?
No, Lincoln is buried in Springfield, Illinois.

2. Is Robert E. Lee’s face carved in the back of Lincoln’s head?
According to the National Park Services (NPS) this is simply an optical illusion when looking at the profile of the president’s head. The sculptors simply carved the waves and tufts of the president’s hair. However, the illusion is quite uncanny — in a profile photo you can clearly make out the features of a face — forehead, eyes, nose, mouth and beard. Go figure.

3. Is the number of steps (87) of the Lincoln Memorial significant.
The NPS claims there is no significance to the number 87. Can you say “fourscore and seven”? That’s very significant. The NPS also gets the number of the first flight of stairs wrong. Their website lists two different numbers: 57 and 58. It’s actually 58.

4. Are Lincoln’s hands making the sign language symbols for his initials (A and L)?
On its website the NPS states: “Sculptor Daniel Chester French used molds of Lincoln’s hands cast in 1860 to guide his work. These molds were created with Lincoln’s hands in a loose fist. Instead of keeping both hands closed, French chose to relax Lincoln’s right hand. From this presentation, many infer the duality of Lincoln’s power and strength on the closed left hand, and his compassion and peace on the right. This interpretation fits in with the motif of oak leaves and olive branches throughout the memorial, symbols of strength and peace, respectively… A correct letter “L” would have the index finger and thumb perpendicular to one another.” It is known that French had a son who was deaf and therefore knew sign language. James Percoco, a historian, believes that French could have intended the sign language symbols: “I think you can conclude that it’s reasonable to have that kind of summation about the hands.” You decide.

5. Is there a misspelled word in the Lincoln Memorial?
Yes, the sculpture who was working on Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address mistakenly chiseled “EUTURE” rather than “FUTURE.” Unfortunately, there is no Wite-Out when you are chiseling marble. The lower stem of the E was filled in; the repair work is still visible today — a reminder of human fallibility. 

Read related posts: The Gettysburg Address
Gettysburg by the Numbers
Mount Rushmore by the Numbers

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