Abraham Lincoln Birthplace
Historic Resource Study
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Chapter Three:

In the months following February 1908, less than a year before the centennial of Lincoln's birth, the directors of the Lincoln Farm Association realized that their limited funds would not provide for the construction of a memorial museum dedicated to Abraham Lincoln. The revised and simplified building program required only that the Memorial Building, as it came to be called, properly honor the memory of Lincoln and that it enshrine the Lincoln birth cabin. The architect, John Russell Pope, already having developed an initial scheme for a large museum building and formal landscape at the site, incorporated much of his original design into the scaled down plan. However, because the Lincoln Memorial Building had to enclose and protect another structure and allow for a constant flow of visitors, Pope created a building without an equal among American museums and memorial buildings. The building can be seen as both a memorial to the birthplace of Lincoln and as a museum displaying one, very significant, artifact. No precedent existed for such a memorial to a cabin, but Pope successfully integrated symbolic and functional architecture to create a very powerful, commemorative experience for the visitor.

Despite Pope's unique architectural vision for the Lincoln Memorial Building, all memorial architecture in America up to that time was part of a long legacy of memorialization using symbolic and architectural forms passed down through the ages. This chapter briefly traces that legacy, and then focuses on the particular events leading up to and through the construction of the Lincoln Memorial Building.


Tomb of Mausolus
Figure 27: Artist's conception of the Tomb of Mausolus (c. 1700s)

American memorial architecture, especially the design of large memorial buildings, has long been rooted in the architectural forms of ancient Greece, Rome, and later European architecture. Importantly, the concept of memorialization the honoring of the memory, deeds, and life of an important person or persons—grew out of universal concepts relating to honoring the dead, worshipping deities, and maintaining the immortal spirit of the deceased. In both Europe and America, ancient architectural forms such as pyramids, tombs, temples, and mausolea, along with smaller sculptural objects such as obelisks and columns, were adapted over time to serve particular memorial purposes.

Funerary architecture is intrinsically related to the concept of the memorial, and by its very nature serves a similar purpose. However, while all funerary monuments are memorials, not all memorials are funerary. As the word implies, memorials often honor only the memory of people or events, and they are not contingent upon the presence of the body or bodies of the deceased. Yet because much of the same emotion and symbolism is intrinsic to both funerary and non-funerary memorials, many of the same architectural and symbolic forms are used. In both ancient and modern times, all memorials used freestanding, sculptural objects such as the obelisk, column, and statue, and enclosing structures such as the tomb, sarcophagus, and mausoleum. Very often, a combination of one or more of these forms would be used in conjunction with a larger building.

One form of ancient funerary architecture, the mausoleum, became a form commonly used in later European memorials. The term mausoleum is derived from the burial tomb of the ancient Carian king Mausolus (c. 377-353 B.C.). The tomb of Mausolus, one of the "Seven Ancient Wonders of the World," was one example of a type of above-ground, circular funerary building that became popular in Greece during the Hellenistic period. Similar circular tombs were built at Delphi and Epidaurus, and all had antecedents in the domed, subterranean Tholoi of ancient Mycenae. Importantly, however these new mausolea were intended to be highly visible structures, serving to bring the burial place of notable individuals out of the earth for all to see and honor. Although mausolea were common in Hellenistic Greece, it was in Rome that the mausoleum as a building type flourished. Cylindrical tombs, developed from the Etruscan tumulus, and rectangular tombs, in the form of temples, were typical. Square, octagonal, and tower forms were also common.

During the Ages, the use of the mausoleum declined as burials were incorporated into churches or replaced by sculptural monuments. [1] A revival of the mausoleum occurred in England in the early eighteenth century with the development of the informal garden. By the end of that century, tombs and mausolea were common features of European estates. The mausoleum inspired related building types during this period. Cenotaphs, usually of imposing scale, honor the memory of persons buried elsewhere. Temple forms and architectural follies were built with no purpose other than the addition of an architectural element to the garden to evoke images of ancient idyllic landscapes. [2]

The mausolea constructed throughout the eighteenth century in England, and later in France, were mostly based on forms found in antiquity: the pyramid, square, circle, octagon, and obelisk. These were built with great variation and some forms, such as the pyramid and obelisk, were more common than others. Permanence, monumentality, and immortality were associated with the pyramid, contributing to its popularity in funerary architecture. [3] The mausoleum at Blickling, Norfolk, designed by Joseph Bonomi in 1794, is the first mausoleum of pyramidal form erected in England. [4] Measuring forty-five feet on each side and forty feet tall, the simple form and smooth ashlar walls are interrupted only by the square windows and entrance. The interior is domed and contains arcaded niches.

Figure 28: Obelisks at Cairo, Egypt
Trajan's Column
Figure 29: Trajan's Column in Rome, Italy

The obelisk, also derived from ancient Egypt, was commonly incorporated into mausoleum designs. Obelisks brought from Egypt were erected throughout ancient Rome and later reerected by Pope Sixtus Vat the close of the sixteenth century. In antiquity, however obelisks symbolized the sun-god and were rarely used as funerary symbols. [5] John Carr's design for Rockingham Mausoleum at Wentworth Woodhouse, Yorkshire, of 1783-88, is among the first mausolea in England to include an obelisk. As planned, the tomb featured a vaulted burial chamber surmounted by a seventy-five-foot obelisk.

Ancient victory columns, similar to the obelisk form, inspired the introduction of new architectural forms in neo-classical Europe. Trajan's Column, erected in Rome in 107-113, is the quintessential model. It is a 125-foot marble column set on a high podium and topped with a statue of the emperor. The actual shaft is adorned with low relief sculptures in a 600-foot continuous spiral that present a visual narrative of Trajan's triumph over the Dacians. The podium, or base, contained a burial chamber for the emperor's ashes. The Colonne Vendome in Paris, built 1806-10, and the Nelson Column in Dublin of 1808, for ex ample, were influenced by Trajan's Column, although they never served a funerary function. The popularity of the obelisk and column can, in part, be attributed to revivalism, exoticism, Romantic Classicism, and the influence of the French Academy and its educational arm, the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. [6]

Circular and square temple forms with a rotunda blended with the landscape gardens of neo-classical England and were commonly scaled down and reconfigured to function as funerary monuments. Robert Adam's mausoleum for the Johnson family at Dumfriesshire, Scotland (1790), incorporates an applied tetrastyle temple-front on a square plan temple with a saucer dome. Chambers's more elaborate but unrealized designs for the mausoleum of Frederick, Prince of Wales (1751-52), feature a domed, circular-planned tomb with obelisks at the four corners of the podium. [7]

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Last Updated: 22-Jan-2003