Abraham Lincoln Birthplace
Historic Resource Study
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Chapter Three:


Baltimore Washington Monument
Figure 33: Baltimore Washington Monument

The first large-scale public memorials erected in the United States followed the War of 1812. In the twenty-five years following the Revolution and the establishment of the American government, the public's desire for large-scale commemorative monuments intensified. Based on European models, early American monuments featured simple iconographic programs, free of the complex allegories that characterized English and French neo-classical monuments. Al though the relative merits of the obelisk and column were debated, both were viewed as the most effective architectural forms for symbolizing a single idea or gesture. [11] Robert Mills, considered the first American-born professional architect, designed many early monuments, including two of the nation's most significant memorials: the Baltimore Washington Monument and the Washington National Monument. The deification of Washington began long before his death in December 1799, and the dedication of a memorial in his honor seemed certain. In 1811, the first of six lotteries, authorized by the Maryland General Assembly, was held, eventually raising enough funds to construct a Washington monument in Baltimore. Mills's design was chosen in an architectural competition in 1813. The white marble monument rises 175 feet and consists of three main elements: a low, rectangular base containing a museum; a plain, unfluted column; and, atop the column, a standing figure of Washington. By the time of the monument's completion in 1829, financial constraints had forced a series of design compromises. Early designs included rich ornamentation, six iron galleries dividing the hollow shaft into seven sections, and a quadriga surmounting the column. The design of the completed column is very similar to the Colonne Vendome, which ultimately derived from Trajan's Column.

Columns utilized in a memorial context, however, never achieved the popularity or the widespread use of the obelisk. The Bunker Hill Monument, designed by Solomon Willard in 1825, commemorates the Revolutionary War battle fought there June 17, 1775, and is the first monumental obelisk built in the United States. In choosing an obelisk over a column for the Bunker Hill Monument, Horatio Greenough reasoned that the obelisk was "complete in itself; the column normally stood beneath the weight of a pediment and supported an entablature. It was taken out of a created unity to become a new and inappropriate whole when utilized as a monument." [12] As a practical matter, the column is simply a pedestal to support a sculpture while the "complete" obelisk offers four flat sides for virtually unlimited inscriptions. Mills also recommended constructing an obelisk at Bunker Hill, noting "its lofty character, great strength, and furnishing a fine surface for inscriptions," and because it "combined simplicity and economy with grandeur." [13] Some later analyses have suggested phallic associations with memorial columns and obelisks, pointing to the almost universal fact that they were made by, and honored, men. Whatever the motivation, it was the obelisk that captured the fancy of most memorial designers during the nineteenth century.

Washington National Monument
Figure 34: Early conception of Washington National Monument by Robert Mills, 1845
Washington Monument
Figure 35: Washington Monument

The Washington National Monument was designed by Robert Mills from 1845 to 1852 and is among the seminal public memorials erected in nineteenth-century America. Efforts to raise the one million dollars needed to complete a monument concentrated on donations from patriotic Americans which would not exceed one dollar. []14 After five years, only $31,000 had been collected, and in 1845, the monument committee accepted a proposal by Mills estimated to cost $200,000. Mills's de sign consisted of a 600-foot obelisk rising from a colonnaded pantheon 100 feet tall and 250 feet in diameter. The interior was to contain statues of the signers of the Declaration of In dependence and paintings depicting events in American history. The decorated obelisk emphasized Washington's military career. Design sources for this form can be traced to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century interpretations of the appearance of ancient mausolea, including the aforementioned tomb of Mausolus at Halicarnassos and Hadrian's Tomb. [15]

Completed by Thomas L. Casey in 1884, the obelisk was reduced in height to 555 feet, and much of the decoration was eliminated. The pantheon surrounding the base was also eliminated, thus creating a monument dedicated solely to Washington. It was constructed of smooth white granite with a plain finish and exceeded the height of all previously erected monuments. The grand scale of the Washington Monument served to validate an already popular architectural form. Nine of the first sixteen Presidents are commemorated with obelisks at their places of birth and/or burial sites: Washing ton, Jefferson, Madison, Jackson, Van Buren, Tyler Fillmore, Pierce, and Lincoln.

During the nineteenth century, American public memorials, especially memorials with patriotic themes, were thought to improve "national morality" and the "national principles" themselves. [16] Petitions appealing for a Washington monument warned that "inattention to the fame, and insensibility to the merits of those who magnanimously protected and laboriously achieved our liberties, may be justly viewed as the decay of that public virtue which is the only solid and natural foundation for a free government." [17] Monuments served to "resharpen distinctions which have grown ambiguous and symbolized creeds and principles in danger of being forgotten." [18] Without a king and imposing ceremony, the United States had few obvious external forms of government. Monuments made the abstract tangible, evoking feelings of patriotism and pride and connected people with the "idea of country." [19]

The majority of post-Civil War memorials erected in the United States were either statues or what were commonly referred to as shafts. This category included obelisks, columns, and other tower-like forms. Beginning in the mid-1860s, large numbers of shafts were built to honor the war dead. These shafts, also called soldier's monuments, were frequently topped with an allegorical figure or soldier and included highly decorated bases with inscriptions. [20] Historian David M. Kahn asserts that the popular use of shafts and their close relationship to funerary architecture resulted from the sudden demand for monuments at the end of the war and the lack of an American memorial architecture other than funerary monuments. [21]

Memorial architecture forms derived from antiquity and revived in neo-classical Europe remained popular in the United States through the nineteenth century. In 1800, Benjamin West, President of the British Royal Academy, asked English architect George Dance to produce de signs for a monument to George Washington. Dance sketched three proposals based on a pyramid form, similar to European monuments such as the mausoleum at Blickling. Ornamental pyramids constructed of uncoursed rubble mark the birthplaces of Presidents Polk, erected in 1904, and Buchanan, built after 1868. The pyramid form was also deemed appropriate to commemorate Civil War dead; a rusticated granite pyramid erected in 1869 in Richmond, Virginia, honors 18,000 Confederate soldiers killed during the war. [22]

In a design competition for the Baltimore Washington Monument, French architects Maximilian Godefroy and Joseph Ramee each submitted designs for triumphal arches based on neo-classical models. Triumphal arches gained currency at the end of the nineteenth century with the ebb of picturesque eclecticism and the rise of Beaux-Arts classicism. George B. Keller's Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial Arch in Hartford, Connecticut, built 1884-1886, illustrates the former with its rusticated Gothic arch and conical towers. [23] Contemporaneously, McKim, Mead and White designed two monumental arches in New York, the arch in Prospect Park of 1888-89 and the Washington Memorial Arch in Washington Square of 1889-92. Both single arches incorporate elaborate sculptural programs reminiscent of classical and Napoleonic arches. [24]

Tomb of James A. Garfield
Figure 36: Tomb of James A. Garfield, Cleveland, Ohio

Public mausolea, also derived from ancient and neo-classical sources, were first con structed in the United States at the end of the nineteenth century. Private, small-scale mausolea were erected throughout the century but remained largely in cemeteries. These were designed in the popular styles of their day, including Egyptian revival, Romanesque revival, and High Victorian Gothic. The tomb of James Monroe, built in 1858 when the president was reinterred in Richmond, Virginia's Hollywood Cemetery, is a typical example. Resembling a large reliquary, it is constructed of iron in the Gothic Revival style and includes lancet and trefoil windows, colonettes, and finials. [25]

The Lincoln Mausoleum in Springfield, Illinois (see Fig. 9), established an early American prototype for the monumental public tomb. The tomb was designed by sculptor Larkin G. Mead in 1869 and completed under the supervision of Russell Sturgis in 1874. As rebuilt in 1900-01, the 117-foot tall granite monument is composed of an obelisk set on a base that contains the Lincoln family burials. A statue of Lincoln at the base of the obelisk is surrounded by four bronze military groups. The mausoleum contained Lincoln artifacts, statues of Lincoln, and relief scenes of the President's life. The tomb is closer to sculpture than architecture, and represents only a partial realization of the public mausolea. The interior memorial spaces were secondary to the exterior sculptural expression, and the rotunda and burial chamber were sealed in 1930-31. [26]

The tomb of James A. Garfield, located in Cleveland, Ohio, represents the first American mausoleum to serve as a public memorial, focusing memorial efforts inside the building. Designed by George B. Keller in 1885 and completed in 1889, the tomb expresses both the Romanesque and Gothic idioms in an original composition. The building is comprised of a circular tower which encloses the memorial chapel and Garfield's crypt, two engaged stair towers, and a three-portal, rectangular entrance block. [27] Funds for the memorial were raised by a popular subscription, with its sponsors referring to it as "the first real Mausoleum ever to be erected to the honor of an American statesman." [28]

The Garfield tomb is among the first complete expressions of the public mausoleum, with interior spaces provided for the contemplation of the late president. Although Keller gave much thought to the exterior appearance of the tomb, its mission remained unfulfilled until the visitor entered the chapel and burial chamber. Constructed shortly after Garfield's tomb, the mausolea of Presidents Grant and McKinley were designed in this new form of American funerary architecture and are discussed below.

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Last Updated: 22-Jan-2003