Hidden Gem: The Famous Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall Actually Isn't the First One Dedicated to Him in DC
There are six public statues dedicated to Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the United States in the District. The Lincoln Memorial, built more than half a century after his death, is what many Americans see when they think of the great president. May 30, 2022, marks the 100th anniversary of the dedication of his memorial.
While it’s definitely the biggest, it’s actually not the original statue that was built in his honor in DC.
For that one, you’ll have to venture across town from the National Mall to the city’s Court of Appeals at Judiciary Square. The statue of Lincoln outside is the “original” Lincoln Memorial, dedicated just three years after his death. It’s the nation's oldest extant memorial to the president, designed by sculptor Lot Flannery, who knew the president and was present at the theater on the night of Lincoln's assassination.
Washingtonians and the Lincoln Monument Association helped pay for the memorial, which cost $25,000 (xxx in 2020). The largest donation came from John Ford, who was the manager of Ford’s Theatre at the time of Lincoln’s death. Ironically, Ford, who was a good friend of Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth, found himself under suspicion at one point as a possible co-conspirator. He was arrested and held for 39 days before being fully exonerated and set free since there was no evidence of his complicity in the crime.
The statue originally stood on an 18-foot high marble column that stood on top of a 6-foot high octagonal base. A reporter asked Lot Flannery why the statue was set on such a high pedestal. He responded: "I lived through the days and nights of gloom following the assassination. As to everyone else, it was a personal lamentation. And when it fell to me to carve and erect this statue I resolved and did place it so high that no assassin's hand could ever again strike him down."
Particular attention was paid to the location of the memorial. The Court of Appeals is a few blocks from Ford’s Theatre and, under Lincoln, was the site of America’s only compensated slave emancipation. For more than 90 days in 1862, a three-man commission sat there, appointed by the President to determine the loyalty of slave owners asking compensation for their freed property and setting the price to be paid. In all, 966 cases were heard and 909 claims accepted. The average paid per slave was about $300, thus keeping the total within the $1 million allotted by Congress.
The statue was dedicated on April 15, 1868 in front of about 20,000 people and dignitaries including President Andrew Johnson and General Ulysses S. Grant. Since its dedication, the Lincoln memorial has been removed twice. It was dismantled in 1919 during renovations of City Hall (now the Court of Appeals). Some Washingtonians didn’t want the memorial to be restored when renovations were complete. They felt it would compete with the much grander memorial on the National Mall that was being built. It was moved a second 2006, and cleaned and restored, when the building again underwent renovations.
The statue is the country's oldest extant memorial to Lincoln and is one of six statues in public places in D.C. honoring the slain president.
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