May 30, 2011

Larger than life

Right after Abraham Lincoln died, the planning for  his memorial began.

Photo by Raul654

But what with one thing and another – the ebb and flow of interest mostly – it wasn’t started until 1914 and took eight years to complete.

On May 30, 1922, President Warren G. Harding dedicated it on behalf of the American people and it has been one of Washington’s most beloved sites ever since.  Almost 7 million people visit every year.

Some interesting things about the memorial include the fact that its little temple is made of Yule marble, which is a Colorado marble named for mining engineer George Yule, who discovered it and realized it was one of the purest marbles in the world – it is 99.5% calcite.

Lincoln himself is made out of Georgia marble and sits on a base of Tennessee marble.

Right hand - L?

Two urban legends still persist:  the first is that the back of Lincoln’s head is a profile of Robert E. Lee, who thus is facing south.  The National Park Service swears this is not true.

But the other legend is harder to dismiss.  There  have been theories over the years that Lincoln is forming the letter A with one hand and the letter L with the other in sign language and that the gestures were made deliberately by sculptor Daniel Chester French as homage to his deaf son, or possibly in recognition of the legislation Lincoln signed during the Civil War that created Gallaudet College. One of French’s earliest commissions was the statue of Theodore Gallaudet now on the campus.

Left hand - A?

The theory was easily dismissed because the shapes created are not those found in American Sign Language, but recently experts have suggested that they do resemble the shapes used by an older form of sign language and would have been appropriate to Lincoln’s time. More about the theory here.

Lincoln was meant to be 10 feet tall, but when French saw the size of the temple, he decided that the figure should be bigger, so he increased it to 19 feet.

If Lincoln were to stand up, he would be three stories tall. That seems just right.


Albania became independent of the Ottoman Empire on this date in 1913, had a monarchy for a while and then disappeared behind the Iron Curtain until about 2o years ago.  It’s a small, poor country of about 3 million people and is struggling to develop a modern economy.

Eurasian lynx, photo by Bernard Landgraf

Interestingly, the fact that Albania remained undeveloped during most of the 20th century has resulted in something unusual in modern Europe.  About one-third of the country is heavily forested, much of it is mountainous, and it retains a rich ecology. There are more than 3200 species of flora – about 30% of the European total – and the mountains still harbor significant numbers of bears, wolves, wild boar and chamois.

Albania is also home to the Balkan lynx, a member of the endangered Eurasian lynx family. Let’s hope they save it.

* * *

Finally, a number of notable birthdays today, but just for the eye candy we’ll recognize Carl Fabergé, many of whose fabulous Easter eggs wound up in the West, but which have now found their way back to Russia.  The one shown was a gift from Nicholas to Alexandra in 1897 and features a perfect miniature of the coronation coach.



  1. Your essay on Lincoln’s memorial was fascinating. What you said about those hands made me really look at them…I don’t know if its true that they say A and L but I saw that they are se expressively exquisite they took my breathe away. I guess that the whole statue is so Remarkably Monumental that we don’t see how those details fit in…unless we focus in on them. Thank you for giving us this opportunity.


    Comment by GALYA TARMU — May 30, 2011 @ 11:04 am | Reply

  2. Fantastic I love Lincoln, what an amazing monument. Very interesting Faberge egg & Albania story. Glad to see you’re back.


    Comment by avery — May 30, 2011 @ 7:00 pm | Reply

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