Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Lincoln Memorial Souvenirs

This month marks the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln, our beloved 16th President. Many monuments and memorials have been erected around the country to honor honest Abe. The most famous is the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Today I’ll start a 3-part series on Abraham Lincoln souvenir buildings and statues. Many souvenirs have been produced of both the memorial building and the statue of a seated Abe inside. Most of the souvenir buildings are smallish pot metal or pewter replicas. One of the best I know of is a large lead jewelry box made in the 1930’s by Jennings Brothers (marked JB on the bottom). This Connecticut company began as jewelry maker, but did produce a few souvenir buildings before it closed in 1953. Cast Iron bookends from the 30’s were also produced in the shape of the Lincoln Memorial. Other souvenirs of the memorial include the back of a U.S. $5 bill and the back of the penny. Abraham Lincoln is remembered as the leader who preserved the Union during the Civil War and beginning the process that led to the end of slavery in the United States – the Emancipation Proclamation. He is also remembered for his character and leadership, his speeches and letters and as a man of humble origins whose determination and perseverance led him to the nation's highest office.The Lincoln Monument Association was incorporated by the United States Congress in March 1867 to build a memorial to Lincoln. A site was not chosen until 1901, in an area that was then swampland. Congress formally authorized the memorial on February 9, 1911, and the first stone was put into place on Lincoln's birthday, February 12, 1914. The monument was completed and dedicated on May 30, 1922. The building, in the form of a Greek Doric temple, contains a large seated sculpture of Abraham Lincoln and inscriptions of two well-known speeches by Lincoln. The memorial, designed by Henry Bacon, after ancient Greek temples, stands 190 feet long, 119 feet wide, and almost 100 feet high. It is surrounded by a peristyle of 38 fluted Doric columns, one for each of the thirty six states in the Union at the time of Lincoln's death, and two columns in-antis at the entrance behind the colonnade. The memorial has been the site of many famous speeches, including Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since October 15, 1966. It is open to the public 24 hours a day. In 2007, it was ranked seventh on the List of America's Favorite Architecture by the American Institute of Architects. Inside, the central hall contains the solitary figure of Lincoln sitting in contemplation. The statue was carved from Georgian marble in four years by the Piccirilli brothers under the supervision of the sculptor, Daniel Chester French. The statue of Lincoln is 19 feet high and weighs 175 tons. The original plan was for the statue to be only ten feet high, but this was changed so that the figure of Lincoln would not be dwarfed by the size of the chamber. I’ve seen copper-colored pot metal souvenir repicas of the statue as well as pencil sharpeners and larger plaster models. A popular legend claims that in the statue, Lincoln is using sign language to represent his initials - with his left hand shaped to form an "A" and his right hand to form an "L". The National Park Service denies both stories, calling them urban legends. However, historian Gerald Prokopowicz believes that, while it is not clear that the sculptor intended Lincoln's hands to be formed into sign language versions of his initials, it is possible that French did intend it. French was familiar with American Sign Language and the fact that Lincoln granted the federal legislation giving Gallaudet University, a university for the deaf, the authority to grant college degrees may explain the theory. The National Geographic Society's publication, "Pinpointing the Past in Washington, D.C." states that Daniel Chester French had a son who was deaf and the sculptor was familiar with sign language. In commemoration of the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth in 1809, a variety of events will be held on Feb 12, 2009 in Washington D.C. and around the country. In the next Lincoln post, I’ll write about other Lincoln statues. Also, check out a well done animation of the Lincoln statue delivering the Gettysburg Address below:

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