would be difficult to visit the Lincoln Memorial and not
be moved. Few locations, in the nation’s capital or
anywhere else, are as evocative.
you’re at the memorial, thinking of all the events
(that transpired) there, it’s where America goes to
challenge itself," says Jay Sacher.
is author of "Lincoln Memorial: The Story and
Design of an American Monument" (Chronicle Books),
with illustrations by Chad Gowey.
it, Sacher looks not only at the nuts and bolts of how
the tribute to the 16th president got built, but also
why it is so powerful, and what it has meant to the
country since it was dedicated in 1922.
incredibly moving," he says. "There’s little
things in its construction — they followed certain
classical design elements, like the walls sloping
slightly inward — and those little elements bring out
its power. But beyond its construction, there’s the
history surrounding it. You cannot look at it and not
think of Martin Luther King (Jr.). It hearkens to the
best of America."
memorial has been the backdrop for events that are part
of the American fabric: Singer Marian Anderson, banned
from performing at Constitution Hall because she was
African American, made the memorial a national stage
with an Easter Sunday concert on its steps in 1939; in
May 1970, days after the National Guard shot protesters
at Kent State and with anti-war sentiment growing,
President Richard Nixon made a pre-dawn visit to
protesters at the memorial; King delivered his "I
Have a Dream" speech there to 250,000 supporters in
also looks at the partnership between architect Henry
Bacon and sculptor Daniel Chester French, who produced
the iconic monument. They worked on some 50 projects
what is interesting," he says, "there was
always infighting and machinations and people had
different views (about construction of the memorial),
but if you look at the designs Bacon and French put
together, they had the vision from day one. They toyed
with some things, but the vision of what they wanted was
able to sustain itself through all the infighting."
also writes about some of the alternate designs for the
Memorial, and plans for the Lincoln Memorial Highway
from Washington to Gettysburg, with parks and places to
stop along the way, "sort of an Appian Way."
might also be surprised at the racist overtones at the
dedication. Black spectators were roped off, segregated
from whites. The only black speaker of the day, Robert
Russa Moton of the Tuskegee Institute, remained behind
the barrier until he was brought to the stage by his
fellow speakers. The speeches that day were also
whitewashed. Lincoln was praised as having saved the
Union, not as the Great Emancipator. Moton’s speech,
in fact, was censored by the memorial commission to
remove references to the ongoing struggle for racial
you look at the sort of racist society that built it,
there’s the notion that at least on the political side
people wanted to downplay the idea of Lincoln as an
emancipator," Sacher explains. "But it came
through anyway. And that’s the power of the memorial.
You can’t not think of those things. You think about
that slow march to justice, what Lincoln symbolized,
despite the revisionists. That’s the real power of the
was broken on Feb. 12, 1914.
Lincoln statue is in 28 pieces and weighs 340,000
original murals in the memorial faded badly and were
restored in the 1990s.
has featured the memorial in movies such as "Mr.
Smith Goes to Washington," the
"Transformers" films, "The Day the Earth
Stood Still" and "National Treasure."
legend to the contrary, the image of Robert E. Lee is
not carved into the curls on the back of Lincoln’s