- The Washington Times - Friday, October 6, 2006

The Lincoln Memorial displays what must be the most famous statue of the 16th president in the world. It was not Washington’s first such statue, however. That distinction belongs to a much more modest affair along D Street Northwest at Judiciary Square.

Proposals for a memorial to Abraham Lincoln began almost at once, after his death at the hands of John Wilkes Booth on April 15, 1865. The D Street statue was the first to be built, perhaps because it was just the one statue and would cost less than more elaborate efforts. It was designed by an artist named Lot Flannery. The public’s first glimpse of his creation came in November 1867, when Mr. Flannery exhibited a drawing of it at Galt jewelry shop on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Flannery’s brainchild cost $7,000, paid for by contributions from the public. It consisted of a marble pillar 35 feet high, with a life-size statue on top. Mr. Lincoln was shown standing, with his right hand at his side, held open. The left hand rested on a cylindrical bundle of rods called a fasces. The fasces was a symbol of the ancient Roman Republic, before the Empire of the Caesars, and in the 19th and early 20th centuries it served as a symbol for the American republic and for republics in general.

Just as an individual rod was easily broken, while a bundle of them strapped together was far stronger, so the states were much stronger if united into one nation. This symbol was often used in Washington’s government buildings, including the sides of the Lincoln Memorial steps and the armrests of its statue. It can also still be found in old office ceiling patterns and even old lamp stands. The pre-Franklin D. Roosevelt dime had one on the back.

The fasces is no longer used today, however. In 1922, when Mussolini seized power in Italy, he used the fasces to coin the word “fascism.” In 1867, of course, the unimaginable horrors of the future were still far off, and Mr. Flannery included the fasces as a symbol of freedom.

Mr. Flannery must have worked at a good clip, for his work was ready less than half a year after the drawing was displayed. On April 15, 1868, the third anniversary of Lincoln’s death, the new Lincoln Monument was dedicated in a massive ceremony. President Andrew Johnson led the proceedings. Also present were Congress and the Cabinet, plus Gens. Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, George Armstrong Custer, Daniel Sickles, Ambrose E. Burnside, Joseph Hooker, George H. Thomas, Benjamin F. Butler, and Adm. David G. Farragut, as well as thousands of soldiers.

Local civic groups also took part, including the Knights of Pythias, the Masons, the Sons of Temperance, and the International Order of Good Templars. All told, about 20,000 people showed up. There were speeches, bands playing, prayers and even poetry, culminating in a great cheer when Johnson unveiled the statue.

The monument then settled into a placid existence. For about 50 years it quietly stood on a grassy mound near the sidewalk. It was still to have an adventure, however.

In 1917, a local lawyer complained to the superintendent of the Capitol Buildings and Grounds Administration. The lawyer’s beef was that the lofty pillar was out of proportion with the Old City Hall just behind it, by now serving as a courthouse. Local bigwigs joined in, and in November 1919 the monument was taken down and stuffed into a crate. It was then left at a storage lot at 15th and C streets Southwest for the next three years.

Local civic groups lobbied to get it back, and in February or March 1922, the monument was put back at almost the same place, although on a much shorter (12-foot) pedestal. This time, raising the statue cost $5,000. The new pedestal was designed by a local architect named F.G. Pierson. Fittingly enough, Mr. Pierson was aided by Henry Bacon, who had designed the Lincoln Memorial that was to open on May 30 that same year.

The monument had no major problems after that, although newspapers of the 1920s and 1930s occasionally mentioned the right hand losing its fingers, whether from vandalism, traffic vibrations, or acid rain.

In retrospect, it may seem odd that post-Civil War America raised such modest sums to honor the 16th president. An old Evening Star article of Dec. 28, 1919, might give a clue as to why. It was written by an elderly Union veteran, a Pvt. Dalzell. The old soldier had been a young one in 1868 and had attended the ceremony with his equally young bride.

Dalzell wrote, “There, poor and simple, altogether not half what any one desired, yet all a people, poor but patriotic could afford in that day of America’s poverty. Rich in men, poor in purse, the nation then could build no million-dollar monuments.”

Dalzell’s closing advice still holds today: “There let that little old monument stand through the ages, commemorating alike the plain, homely life and character of the meek and lonely Lincoln, and at the same time the love and sorrow of the poor men and women who raised this shaft as the very best they could afford in a period of national poverty.”

John Lockwood is a Washington writer.


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