This Week in History: May 29 – June 4
The Lincoln Memorial history and dedication.
By: Kelli Ballard | May 29, 2022 | 989 Words
“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.” ~ Robert Kennedy
May 30, 1922: Lincoln Memorial Dedication
On this day, 100 years ago, the famous Lincoln Memorial in honor of the 16th US president, Abraham Lincoln, was dedicated in Washington, DC. Although there was a call to build a monument in Lincoln’s honor after his assassination, it took another 60 years before the project was finished.
In 1867, Congress gave approval for sculptor Clark Mills to create a design. This first layout was like a tiered wedding cake. It called for dozens of statues and then a bronzed statue of the president signing the Emancipation Proclamation to free slaves. However, they couldn’t raise enough money to start the project since a lot of funding was going towards reconstruction after the Civil War ended. Finally, in 1911, Congress approved $2 million to complete the project, but only after several design rejections.
Architect John Russell Pope submitted several designs, mostly revolving around Egyptian concepts, such as an Egyptian pyramid. He also suggested a Mayan temple that would have had an eternal flame on the monument’s summit.
Did you know the memorial is actually an optical illusion? The exterior walls and columns were built, on purpose, to lean slightly inward “to compensate for perspective distortions which would otherwise make the memorial appear asymmetrical,” according to the National Park Service.
The statue of Lincoln is 19 feet tall. It was sculpted by Daniel Chester French. One of the dilemmas of building the likeness was what to do with the president’s hands. “It has always seemed to me that the hands in portraiture were only secondary to the face in expression, and I depend quite as much upon them in showing character of force,” French explained. With this in mind, he designed Lincoln’s left hand clenched to show his determination to end the Civil War and the right hand open to show a welcome to rejoin the Confederacy with the Union without vengeance.
You may have heard rumors that there’s a secret chamber under the Lincoln Memorial. Well, it’s true, and not really a secret. The monument was built on land that had been taken from the Potomac River’s tidal flats, so huge pillars and a “foundation as deep as 65 feet in some spots” were built to anchor the monument. The basement is three-stories and known as the undercroft. It sits just below the pink Tennessee marble floor of the monument.
A former Confederate officer, Joseph Blackburn, “turned the first spadeful of sod” during the groundbreaking on February 12, 1914, according to The New York Times. “This memorial will show that Lincoln is now regarded as the greatest of all Americans,” Blackburn said during the ceremony, “and that he is so held by the South as well as the North.”
The Lincoln Memorial is the most visited tourist site in DC. It has been featured in films and can be seen on the five-dollar bill and the back of pennies minted between 1959 and 2008. It was also the background for Martin Luther King Jr’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.
Other Notable Mentions
May 29, 1453: The end of the Byzantine Empire. This is the day when the Turks captured the city of Constantinople and renamed it Istanbul, which became the capital of the Ottoman Empire.
May 29, 1660: Charles II took the throne, restoring the English monarchy that had been controlled by Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell.
May 29, 1787: During the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, the Virginia Plan was proposed.
May 29, 1865: The Civil War had ended so President Andrew Johnson issued to the Confederates a proclamation which gave them amnesty – except for high-ranking military personnel and those who owned large properties.
May 30, 1783: The Pennsylvania Evening Post was the first daily newspaper to be published in the US.
June 3, 1972: Sally Jane Priesand became the first woman to become a rabbi in the US.
June 4, 1944: The US 5th Army liberated Rome during World War II.
June 4, 1989: The Tiananmen Square Massacre in Beijing, China. The government had its troops open fire on protesters with an estimated 3,000 deaths.
Patrick Henry (May 29, 1736) was born in Studley, Virginia. He was a leader during the American Revolutionary War and is known for saying: “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.”
Oswald Spengler (May 29, 1880) was born in Germany. He was a historian and wrote the influential book The Decline of the West.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy (May 29, 1917) was born in Brookline, Massachusetts. He was the 35th US president and the youngest to ever be elected.
Peter the Great (May 30, 1672) was born near Moscow. He is considered the founder of the Russian empire.
Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819) was born in Long Island, New York. An American poet, one of his most famous works a collection of poems titled Leaves of Grass.
Brigham Young (June 1, 1801) was born in Whittingham, Vermont. Known as the “American Moses” he is the founder of Utah as well as the patriarch of the Mormon church.
Marilyn Monroe (June 1, 1926) was born in Los Angeles. Her birth name was Norma Jean Mortensen. She started out as a model and then became a movie star and later married Joe DiMaggio, a baseball legend. Some of her movies include Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and The Misfits (1961).
Jefferson Davis (June 3, 1808) was born at Todd County, Kentucky. During the Civil War, he acted as president of the Confederacy until 1865, when the war ended and he was imprisoned.
King George III (June 4, 1738). It was he the Americans fought the Revolutionary War against. He ruled a total of 60 years.