The Lincoln Memorial is one of the most-visited, well-known buildings on the National Mall. It’s featured on the back of pennies and five-dollar bills. It frequently appears in movies and as the backdrop of famous speeches. But how well do you really know this building and its history? Impress your friends and family on your trip to D.C. by casually bringing up these seven little-known facts about the Lincoln Memorial.
Though park rangers are only on duty from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. to answer questions, the Lincoln Memorial is always open to visitors. If you’re looking to avoid crowds, evening hours are perfect for a stroll along the grounds and quiet reflection. Alternatively, on Wednesday mornings at 5:25 am and 6:20 am, you can join the November Project for a free workout on the stairs—all 145 of them.
Can you imagine being the person whose bad spelling skills are carved into history? That’s exactly what happened to the construction workers on the Lincoln Memorial. Though they’ve tried to correct the error, you can see that some poor soul carved “E” instead of “F” at the beginning of the word “Future” on the north wall.
While Abraham Lincoln is known as one of our taller presidents at six feet, four inches (1.93 meters), he wasn’t anywhere near 27 feet (8.5 meters) tall—which is the whopping height if the marble statue at the Lincoln Memorial were to stand up.
While not confirmed by park officials, many have noticed that Lincoln’s hands represent “A” and “L” in sign language. It might not be what the designer had intended, but there is pretty compelling evidence. Another popular myth is that there is a face hidden in the back of Lincoln’s hair, meant to immortalize the designer Daniel Chester French.
Wouldn’t you love a giant memorial for your birthday? That’s exactly what architects Daniel Chester French and Henry Bacon gave Abraham on February 12, 1914. Ground broke for the project 49 years after his death. In total, the construction took eight years, with work slowing during World War I due to material shortages.
Among other ideas, the plan for a giant memorial pyramid was considered before Congress assigned Henry Bacon the contract. Competing architect John Russell Pope wanted a 250-foot (60.9-meter) temple in Meridian Hill Park (for scale, that’s taller than the Capitol Rotunda). However, it was Bacon who drew on Greek inspiration that became the final columned, marble building at the end of the National Mall.
The temple is surrounded by 36 Doric columns, each representing a state in the Union at the time of Lincoln’s assassination. The symbolism being that without the columns, the roof would fall; just like without the states, the nation would fall.