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Entries in Lincoln Memorial (18)


Weekly Washington: Happy Birthday, Smithsonian!

photo uploaded to flickr by SDCDeaCerteThe Smithsonian celebrated their 164th Birthday this week, commemorating the anniversary of when Congress finally pulled their thumb out of their rear and acted on James Smithson's bequest. Or, as they put it; "After ten years of spirited debate and extensive compromise, it was on August 10, 164 years ago today, that President James K. Polk signed a bill presented by the United States Congress establishing the Smithsonian Institution." You say tomato, I say...

Like most local bloggers, I’ve been excited to watch the birth of DC’s latest local news juggernaut, I’m looking forward to seeing how this turns out, especially since DC Like a Local is one of TBD’s 100-plus blogs in their Community Network. This week in tourism news they take one for the team and review DC’ s On Location Tours as well as examine why their building is periodically taken over by tour groups.

The District’s slow movement to get our two statues into Statuary Hall gets stalled. Again. Some Representatives led Rep. Dan Lungren (D-CA) think I should only be represented by one statue, instead of two, as I am not a resident of a state. Funny how Rep. Lungren is cool with me paying all of my income taxes, nor do I remember him saying I only had to do half a deployment when I was in the Navy.

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Weekly Washington : Lincoln and More...

It has come to my attention that maybe, just maybe, there are other news organizations covering items of interest in the Washington, DC travel and tourism world besides this humble effort. In that vein, I’m launching my “Weekly Washington” feature to let you know of some of those relevant items.

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Urban Legends of the Lincoln Memorial - All With High Hope For the Euture

As we sign off for the week, let’s take a look at a couple of tidbits about the Lincoln Memorial that happen to be “true”, and use them to explore how the line between “true story” and “urban legend” is neither as wide nor as defined as academic historians (or National Park Service Rangers) would have you believe.

We’ll start with the the thirty-six columns. In their phone in guide program and on their website, the Park Service holds this up as an example of “true” symbolism in the Memorial:

Whereas there are a few symbolic representations in the details, such as the thirty-six exterior columns representing the number of states at the time of his death, many more suggested symbols are pure myth.

But how accurate is this? To begin with, there are thirty-eight Doric columns supporting the Memorial, although two are clearly set back from the others near the entrance. And there are clearly thirty-six states listed above the colonade. But how do we know that it’s not coincidence, as presumably the four score and seven steps are? One site even goes so far as to state; “as an afterthought, the 36 columns required for the design were seen to represent the 36 U.S. states at the time of Lincoln's death, and their names were inscribed in the entablature above each column.” What makes this symbolism “true”?

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Urban Legends of the Lincoln Memorial - Who Is Buried Here?

photo uploaded to flickr by NCinDCYears ago, when I took the exam to become licensed in Washington, DC as a tour guide, I was struck by one of the questions (actually, by many of the questions, but that’s a topic for another time). This particular section was photo identification, where you saw a picture of a landmark and answered a series of questions about it. Peering into the thrice photocopied test, I made out what was a blurred but yet still recognizable Lincoln Memorial. Among the other questions I had to answer: “Who is buried here?”

Now, that has puzzled me to this day. Was it a trick question, designed to tease out guide’s credibility for urban legends? Or did, honest to God, a Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs employee think that Lincoln was actually buried here?

If so, he or she must be in good company. I only get the question sporadically, but this must have been popular at some time, as it litters message boards throughout the Internet. Is Abraham Lincoln buried in the Lincoln Memorial? Or, more broadly, was the Memorial designed to someday be a tomb for Lincoln and foiled at the last minute?

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Urban Legends of the Lincoln Memorial - Fourscore and Seven Steps Ago

Yet another popular legend of the Lincoln Memorial lies in the number of steps to the top of the Memorial. As before, let’s start with the Park Service’s website:

No, this is another popular myth. The Lincoln Memorial steps actually extend to the Reflecting Pool, so at present count that would be 98 steps.  If one counts the steps from the road to the Memorial chamber, one would find 57.  There is no significance to either number.

Unfortunately, the Park Service doesn’t tell you what the popular myth is. Put simply, the legend states the number of steps are either Lincoln’s age (road to Memorial chamber) or “fourscore and seven” (all the way to the Reflecting Pool).

If you don’t check out their site, and I wouldn’t blame you if you don’t (it’s quite horrible), the Park Service offers a cell phone tour of the Memorial. Call (202) 747-3420 and listen to one of 13 recorded messages. Number 11 is entitled “Myths of the Lincoln Memorial” and addresses this one (as well as Lee’s face and Lincoln’s hands):

When you visit the memorial, you climb several steps to reach the Chamber. Many visitors assume the 58 steps they climb from the sidewalk below equal his age at his death. However Lincoln was only 56 years old when he was killed in April 1865.

So, it looks like the Park Service is dead on. As we all know, Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809 and died on the morning of April 15, 1865. He was clearly 56 years old at his death. I know, I know, the legend has morphed into 56 steps for his age and one for each term of his Presidency, but if we start playing with the numbers we’re just entering the realm of fantasy.

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