• Lincoln Memorial Night Shot

    Lincoln

    Memorial District of Columbia

Lincoln Memorial Myths

Lincoln

A face is carved in the back of Abraham Lincoln's head.
Many visitors to the memorial peer around the side of Daniel Chester French's statue of Abraham Lincoln looking for a face ambiguously carved in Lincoln's hair. However, not all can agree on whose face it is, or even where it is on the statue. The most plausible explanation is that it is Robert E. Lee's face, looking toward his old home Arlington House across the Potomac River. The truth is that the "face" is nothing more than the viewer's interpretation of Lincoln's hair. The true meanings of the Lincoln Memorial - strength, peace, and union - are much more overt than a pareidolia in a barely visible part of the statue. For the overt symbol of the Lincoln/Lee connection, or more accurately the Union/Confederate connection, look no further than the Arlington Memorial Bridge. Status: False.

Lincoln's hands are making sign language symbols of his initials "A" and "L."
Sculptor Daniel Chester French used molds of Lincoln's hands cast in 1860 to guide his work. These molds were created with Lincoln's hands in a loose fist. Instead of keeping both hands closed, French chose to relax Lincoln's right hand. From this presentation, many infer the duality of Lincoln's power and strength on the closed left hand, and his compassion and peace on the right. This interpretation fits in with the motif of oak leaves and olive branches throughout the memorial, symbols of strength and peace, respectively.

The idea that French coded Lincoln's initials into his hands likely stems from another of French's sculptures, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Alice Cogswell. Gallaudet was a co-founder of the first school for the deaf in America, and French's statue honoring him now stands at Gallaudet University in northeast Washington, D.C. In that statue, Gallaudet is depicted with Alice Cogswell, his first student, who is signing the letter "A" with her right hand, symbolizing her education in sign language.

While French had an understanding of sign language characters, he did not incorporate explicit symbols into his sculpture of Lincoln. Status: False.

A word is misspelled in the Lincoln Memorial.
In Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, depicted on the north wall of the memorial, an engraver inadvertently carved a letter “E” where he meant to carve an “F.” This error was corrected by filling in a portion of the carving to revert it to an "F." Status: Partially true.

Abraham Lincoln is buried under the Lincoln Memorial
Abraham Lincoln is buried in Springfield, Illinois. The memorial was built as a place to remember Lincoln, not to house his remains. Status: False.

The number of steps on the Lincoln Memorial is significant.
Some assume the 57 steps leading to the chamber equal his age at his death; however, Lincoln was just 56 years old when he was killed in April 1865. There is no significance to the number of steps. Status: False.