Memorials For Life
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A Perspective of the Lincoln Memorial
The Lincoln Memorial, as it leans against the Potomac is one of the most wondrous monuments in Washington D.C., or for that matter, in America. In between its Greek revival style columns, the “Great Emancipator,” sits nobly upon a throne. Popular myth says that his eyes can follow a visitor, regardless of which direction he goes.
“In this temple as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the union” it is engraved above him, “the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.” Around each corner, as one walks through the Lincoln Memorial, one is also reminded of his wise sayings, most notably the “Gettysburg Address.” Along with that, there is a list of each state in the Union. (14 of which had yet to be incorporated at the time of Lincoln’s death)
The Lincoln Memorial, if it can be so, is even grander at night, as light shines through it, casting a neatly cut reflection for almost a mile into the Potomac.
Plans for the Lincoln Memorial began in 1867; the monument was completed in 1910. Since then, the Lincoln Memorial has seen its fair share of important history.
On April 9th (Easter Sunday) 1939, African American opera singer, Marian Anderson thrilled audiences at the Lincoln Memorial, with “My Country Ties of Thee,” which also heralded the beginning of the civil rights era. On July 4, 2000, a recording was played commemorating that important moment, as part of the overall holiday proceedings. In 1959, the Lincoln Memorial received another honor, when it would replace the “wheat grain” on the back of the penny, and make its way onto the back of the $5.00 bill. It would remain on both until 2008.
In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would present his powerful message of tolerance and equality with his now famous, “I have a dream,” speech. Even at the time, as his supporters listened to him on that hot August day, they knew that this speech marked a changing point in American history, and so it was.
Throughout the 1960s, as the Vietnam War dragged on, numerous protests, from groups such as the “Weathermen,” the “Black Panthers,” and the “Vietnam Veterans Against the War,” were made at the Lincoln Memorial. Most of these were peaceful, but some became violent, and resulted in the police and military being called in. Both before and since then, many Washington politicians, hoping to find clarity on how to vote with a particular piece of legislation, will stand under the “Great Emancipator’s” shadow at the Lincoln Memorial, with an almost religious fervor, hoping that he will in some way speak to them.
The Lincoln Memorial’s most memorable moments for the “millennial” generation, never technically happened at all. From the moment when Forrest Gump meets Jenny as he runs into the Potomac, to the thrill packed moment when it is blown up in Independence Day, along with much of Washington, the generation that grew up in the 1990s is generally more familiar with the Lincoln Memorial’s place on film than in history.
In surveys taken over the course of many decades, Abraham Lincoln is consistently ranked the most popular President in American history, surpassing such other notables as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Franklin Roosevelt. If this is true, it is certainly reflected in the Lincoln Memorial, which draws more crowds, by far, each year than any of Washington’s other memorials.
It only makes sense then that the statue of 16th President, featured at the Lincoln Memorial, has been imitated in public places all over the country. Two of the most famous examples of this are at the Illinois State Library (a State nicknamed “The Land of Lincoln”) and the Alma College Public Library, in Alma, Michigan.
Amidst the beauty and grandeur of the Lincoln Memorial, hopefully the real lesson of Abraham Lincoln’s life will not be lost. Despite repeated setbacks, and the odds working against him, something from within him drove him to keep going, and not to let go. Whether it stemmed from his deep conviction that America divided against itself could not stand, his belief that slavery was wrong, his hatred of corrupt politics, or at times simply the counsel of his wife Mary Todd, it is surely that unwillingness to give up that can still encourage even the most down and out visitors today. It was after all, that persistence that drove him to the Presidency, and also kept him confident through 5 years of the worst war in American history, the Civil War.