- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2001

Tourists flocked to the Lincoln Memorial Tuesday, as they do most days. The visitors, a kaleidoscope of nationalities and ages, flooded the massive stairway with cameras cocked to bring home a portrait of a beloved presidents memorial.

That day, however, they could get only so close to the 16th president´s likeness. Workers from the National Park Service had sectioned off the interior chamber in order to clean — and preserve — the popular memorial, near the intersection of Constitution Avenue and 23rd Street NW.

Even venerable ol´ Abe needs a face-lift once in a while.

For three days this week, a team of eight park workers steam-cleaned the historic statue and sent jet after jet of concentrated water in and around the chamber as part of a twice-yearly cleaning program.

The statue of the seated president isn´t the only part of the memorial to get a scrubbing. The walls, ceiling and 36 Doric columns, one for each state at the time of Lincoln´s death, withstood the cleaning, which is scheduled to finish this afternoon.

The park service watches over 105 statues and bas-relief sculptures at 57 sites in the District, keeping the elements — and Father Time — at bay, but the Lincoln Memorial holds a special place in the hearts of the park staffers.

Jimmy Mauldin, a preservation worker with the crew, understands the magnitude of their efforts. "It´s a real important duty," Mr. Mauldin says, a smile sneaking across his lips. "I like the finished job, to see what it looks like."

Stephen Lorenzetti, chief of the park´s resource management division, says the cleanings are a work in progress. "In the past five years, we´ve fine-tuned the cleaning because of all the studies done on the building," he says.

"The old way, we squirted a whole bunch of water all over the place," he continues. Not only was that method wasteful, but the high-pressure streams would shift the marble panels in the ceiling and potentially could chip the statue. Plus, "the water would stay in the stone and slowly come out," Mr. Mauldin says, which could lead to water damage.


On Tuesday, a hydraulic lift brought park workers up close to the tall marble statue and Lincoln´s stoic countenance so they could clean its many folds and creases.

Workers used low-pressure bursts of steam to remove the accumulated dirt, some of it from pigeon droppings, along with the scuff marks on its base from curious visitors who insist on climbing it.

For stubborn stains, a non-ionic detergent that won´t damage the marble is applied. Last, the entire statue is rinsed with water to remove any excess cleanser.

A long yellow pole that spits out the steam lets workers get close to the statue. They lean forward to reach the interior folds of the jacket and pants.

"It´s difficult because of the shape and size of it," Mr. Lorenzetti says.

The change in the statue´s appearance isn´t dramatic. Mr. Lorenzetti cites the regular treatments and the reduced number of pigeons flocking to the area. A series of low-voltage wires encircles the rafters, gently directing birds away from the memorial without hurting them.

Only the columns, their bases stained like the knees of a worn pair of pants, show significant discoloration.

The memorial, a tribute to President Lincoln and the victorious fight to preserve the Union, is based on a Greek temple design. American sculptor Daniel Chester French crafted Lincoln´s likeness, which commands the chamber´s interior.

Its ceiling features a mural by Jules Guerin that shows the angel of truth freeing a slave. Guerin´s other memorial mural, on the north, wall symbolizes a united North and South.

Inscribed on the memorial´s south wall is the Gettysburg Address, and on the north section is Lincoln´s second inaugural speech.

President Warren G. Harding dedicated the memorial on May 30, 1922.

Mr. Mauldin says the Lincoln statue is "in pretty good shape, considering his age."

That doesn´t make his job any easier.

"Getting around the people is the hardest part," he says in a tone that shows he understands their attention.

Some small chips mar the statue´s surface. For those who get in close though, the former president looks as imposing as we remember.

"It´s delicate. That´s why we use steam," Mr. Mauldin says.

Before the cleaning, a team of masons shored up the statue´s base last week. Such work typically is done in-house, Mr. Lorenzetti says.

More work remains to be done.

"The statue still needs re-pointing," he says, to firm up where the statue´s 16 pieces join together.

"It´s in excellent shape," marvels park mason Cary Huffman. "There´s nothing really tearing it up right now."

The project brings out a patriotic flair in Mr. Huffman´s stonework.

"It´s neat. There´s always something different to do," he says of the assignment.

The sawhorses and streams of water didn´t stop the phalanx of camera-toting tourists from clogging the memorial´s entranceway, straining to peek at the work. Some grumbled as they approached, disheartened to see that they could only get so close to the statue. Others simply swiveled in place and snapped shots of the nearby Reflecting Pool and Washington Monument, which face the memorial.

Tourist Trudy Fulton of Tennessee, along with her daughter Kari, watched with both curiosity and disappointment while the cleaning took place.

"I´m glad they´re taking care of it. Too bad they´re doing it now," she says.

Mr. Lorenzetti says that for him and his workers, the Lincoln Memorial work isn´t just another chore on their to-do lists.

"It seems all of America loves to look at it," he says. "It´s our job to make it last. We take pride in that."


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide