The iconic Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC today celebrates its 100th birthday. Rising out of the mud of the Potomac River a century ago, it is today the city’s most popular monument with over 8 million visitors a year.
Since it was unveiled to the public on Memorial Day in 1922, the Lincoln Memorial has become one of the world’s best-known monuments—and a key stop for millions of annual visitors to Washington, D.C. https://t.co/mYnpWDHej4
— National Geographic (@NatGeo) May 30, 2022
The visitors come for all sorts of reasons, as the Washington Post explains:
They come to learn, to give thanks, to protest, to be inspired, to propose, to eat lunch, to walk dogs, to peddle T-shirts, to snap selfies, to launch school trips, to shoot movie scenes, to share a kiss, to have a nightcap, to give speeches, to ask for votes, to pray for change, to mourn America’s greatest sin and remember its greatest ideals, to hope that the union Abraham Lincoln died to preserve will endure.
If you’ve ever visited yourself, you know that it’s an awe-inspiring experience, standing next to a 175-ton, seated Abraham Lincoln as his piercing gaze looks out over the National Mall. The National Park Service describes the 16th president’s demeanor:
One of the president’s hands is clenched, representing his strength and determination to see the war through to a successful conclusion. The other hand is a more open, slightly more relaxed hand representing his compassionate, warm nature.
The official opening occurred on this day 100 years ago in a ceremony attended by about 50,000 people, with 2 million more listening on radio. It had been 57 years since President Abraham Lincoln was felled by an assassin’s bullet just days after the Civil War had officially ended.
It is the site of some of the nation’s most iconic moments, including two historic milestones in the civil rights struggle: black singer Marian Anderson’s performance of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” in 1939, and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.
It’s also been the site of countless protests, as The Free Press writes:
Since then (MLK’s speech), hundreds of gatherings have occurred with protesters using the site on the national mall as a place to gather, including 1970s anti-Vietnam War protests, a 2009 Tea Party march and protest, the 2017 Women’s March, and more recently, Black Lives Matter gatherings.
It’s fitting that the memorial celebrates its birthday today, as our country seems more divided than ever, with issues from race to gun violence to COVID to the economy dominating the headlines. The Lincoln Memorial reminds us that we have in fact been more divided – we’ve actually been at war with each other – but the nation endured. Lincoln abolished slavery, won the Civil War, and restarted a war-ravaged economy before his tragic assassination. His greatness proved that we can overcome our divisions, and we’ve done it in the past. From an editorial in the Free Press:
Those who planned, designed and built the Lincoln Memorial may have never foreseen the site would become a symbol of a place to exercise their First Amendment right of free speech. But the evolution of the memorial to become a place where the American people fight for their beliefs is most certainly something Lincoln would have embraced.
It’s both Memorial Day and the Lincoln Memorial’s 100th birthday today. Let’s hope these two celebrations and remembrances remind us of the greatness of this nation, and our need to overcome the divides. We can only hope that someone as great as Lincoln emerges.
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