Happy 200th Birthday Abraham Lincoln : February 12, 1809
I grew up in Arlington, Virginia, a stone’s throw from the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery. The Potomac River acted as a fence, the Nation’s Capitol, a neighbor on the opposite side. When I was very young, I imagined all cities had beautiful marble buildings like Washington, DC.
My family, like many others, only visited historic sites when we had guests. One of my favorite outings was the drive across Memorial Bridge to visit the Lincoln Memorial . The building is like a classical Greek temple including 36 enormous columns, one for each state at the time of Lincoln’s presidency. An immense marble statue of the former head of state, 5 times larger than his actual size, sits at the front opening.
I’d stare, mesmerized by Abe’s huge hands, one sort of clenched and the other open, resting on the arm of his chair. Some say the sculptor, Daniel Chester French, who had a hearing-impaired daughter, carved Mr. Lincoln fingers to sign his initials “A” and “L” in American Sign Language. Who knows?
The statue’s dominant features are the probing, deep-socketed eyes, the kind that hold your gaze with compelling power. Lincoln wears a sorrowful look, as if remembering horrific battle scenes from the Civil War.
Then, there’s the mole on his cheek. Fascinating in the way moles are fascinating.
Today, the National Park Service guards the monument and tries to maintain a quiet aura, despite large school groups milling around. Somehow they manage because I feel serenity in the place, a peacefulness and sense of pride.
Nighttime is the best time to visit, when fewer tourists linger. Sit on the steps (there are 87, which equals four score and seven) and look down the Reflecting Pool toward the Washington Monument and Capitol . The scene stirs with history, overflowing memories of past events, even if you’ve only seen them on film.
I’m not sure if Lincoln was our greatest president; his assassination certainly catapulted him into fame. Maybe the same is true of John Kennedy? Roosevelt perhaps? Others insist George Washington deserves the honor.
Nonetheless, Abe seemed to be the right man at the right time. I hope our new president will be equally remembered.
The Lincoln Memorial is open 24 hours a day. However Rangers are on duty to answer questions from 9:30 A.M. to 11:30 P.M. daily.