Calmly authoritative, the 19-foot-high (5.8–meter) statue of Abraham Lincoln sits in his chair at the western end of the mall, his gaze forever fixed upon the Washington Monument. Stand where millions of Americans have stood, paying tribute to the man who, born in a humble log cabin, grew up to guide his nation through the American Civil War and bring an end to slavery.
Many aspect of the limestone and marble statue are symbolic. The fluted, Doric columns represent the 36 states recognized at the time of Lincoln’s presidential term. The names of the 48 states that existed when the building was completed in 1922 are inscribed on the attic friezes.
Climb the stairs from the base of the Reflecting Pool, remembering to remain respectful; the memorial is a hallowed place for millions of Americans. The memorial’s interior is divided into three chambers. Either side of Lincoln’s statue are the north and side chambers, which contain inscriptions from two of the president’s most famous speeches, the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address. Above these, admire the murals depicting the values held dear by Lincoln throughout his life: freedom, liberty, immortality, justice, law, unity, fraternity and charity.
The importance of this building and all that it represents had made it a centerpiece of historic gatherings and speeches. Standing on the steps, you can practically hear the echo of the hundreds of thousands of people who gathered before Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. as he proclaimed to the world, “I have a dream.” More recently, in 2009, then President-elect Barak Obama gave his pre-inaugural speech on these same steps.
The Lincoln Memorial is open 24 hours a day. Be sure to bring your camera and tripod, as the play of light on the marble exterior is a photographer’s dream, especially when illuminated at night. Rangers are on duty to answer questions from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. daily, and run interpretive tours through the building every hour on the hour.