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Secrets of the Lincoln Memorial

Updated on October 13, 2011

In 1867, two years after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, the Lincoln Memorial was commissioned. But, it would be many years before it saw completion. And not many are aware there are few mysterious speculations concerning its history along with a plethora of facts.

The land chosen for the memorial in 1901 was basically a swamp. Not only did the land have to be filled in and leveled, there was no money in the fiscal budget to complete it. However, in 1911 President William Howard Taft authorized $2 million for Henry Bacon’s 99 ft high marble structure designed after the classic temples of ancient Greece.

Bacon’s design included several items symbolic of Lincoln’s presidency. For instance, at the time of Lincoln’s assassination, there were 36 states comprising the nation. Bacon designed the memorial to have 36 columns. Although by the time of its completion there were 12 more states which had joined the Union. The names of those states were engraved on the outside of the marble structure. Plaques were later added for the inclusion of Alaska and Hawaii.

The statue of Lincoln was originally designed to be approximately 10 feet tall but Bacon later decided in relation to the huge temple, Lincoln would seem relatively minuscule. The statue, later sculpted by noted sculptor Daniel Chester French, was changed to be about 19 feet tall.

Finally, on February 12, 1914, Lincoln’s birthday, the cornerstone was set. But it wasn’t until 1922 the memorial was completed and dedicated. Seventy-nine year old Robert Todd Lincoln, the former president’s only surviving son was in attendance. The ceremony was overseen by then Chief Justice William Howard Taft.

Inside the memorial, 2 of Lincoln’s greatest speeches are engraved for posterity. His second inaugural speech is on the north wall and the Gettysburg address on the south. And above the Gettysburg address is a mural of an angel freeing a slave.

As with any famous person or structure, urban legends spring up about them. One legend says French carved a profile of Robert E. Lee in locks of hair on the back of Lincoln’s head which is looking longingly across the Potomac River at his house.The home in question is now the Robert E. Lee Memorial. However, many fail to see the supposed image. Officials of the Park Service have said no such carvings were done intentionally. Regardless, imaginations run wild and people still claim to see all kinds of things in Lincoln's hair.

Another legend says Lincoln’s hands are forming his initials, “A” and “L” in American Sign Language. While Lincoln’s hands are indeed resting in the correct position, it’s a mystery as to whether it was done deliberately. Supposedly, French designed the pose in honor of his deaf son. However, no one has ever been able to confirm or deny it. But it is known French did this in at least one other sculpture.

The Lincoln Memorial has become a symbol of freedom and civil rights for the American people. As such it has often been the site of speeches and protests. Martin Luther King’s famous speech, “I Have a Dream” was delivered from the steps of the monument.

In addition to being a famous pulpit, so to speak, many have found the statue to be great for fun photographs. Despite constant guard patrols, people somehow find a way to climb up into Lincoln’s lap and have their picture taken.

Many would be surprised to find out the "President's Book of Secrets" featured in the movie "National Treasure: Book ofSecrets," actually does exist. The book, which is rumored to contain the nation’s top 10 secrets, allegedly makes reference to the Lincoln Memorial.

As ludicrous as it may sound some have a notion the book reveals the Memorial is really made of solid gold and painted white. The idea being if the American economy ever goes belly up, it will be melted down to pay off debts.

The memorial attracts over 3 million visitors a year and is always open to the public and free of charge.

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    • JY3502 profile imageAUTHOR

      John Young 

      6 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Well, could be those are his initials.

    • profile image

      Cooldude971 

      6 years ago

      Awesome ! Thanks ! But why is His hands An A and an L ?

    • Maddie Ruud profile image

      Maddie Ruud 

      6 years ago from Oakland, CA

      What a great Hub full of interesting facts and legends!

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 

      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Really great read. Should I chance to visit the Lincoln Memorial, I will definitely be checking out his hair!

    • ThelmaC profile image

      Thelma Raker Coffone 

      6 years ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

      As always, you have written a very interesting hub. Thanks for sharing this little known info about the Lincoln Memorial.

      Thelma

    • profile image

      Lynn S. Murphy 

      6 years ago

      Interesting facts about this amazing man. Great read!

    • profile image

      ruffridyer 

      6 years ago from Dayton, ohio

      A lot of interesting detail. The only thing I knew about the memorial was it faces the Jefferson memorial across the pond.

    • JY3502 profile imageAUTHOR

      John Young 

      6 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Charlotte B Plum, you are quite welcome my dear.

    • Charlotte B Plum profile image

      Charlotte B Plum 

      6 years ago

      Wow I found this such an interesting read! I never knew this, thank you for writing this!

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