I've always had a slightly different view of the Lincoln Memorial. I mean it's a place of celebration, for most people a place to go see on your vacation. For me it was always kind of a dark and somber and unhappy place. And the reason is, when I was a kid, I grew up in this area, so my parents would bring me down here on occasion. But because we lived in the area it was sunny days that we came down. We didn't have to force ourselves to see it in the rain. Suppose whenever I saw Lincoln I was out in the sunshine. But he's sitting there in the dark. He's sitting not only in the dark but he's at the back of this building, looking down, looking sad, you know, you know, of course to a child if you look down and you sit in the dark you're a sad person. So he always felt very sad to me. So I never particularly liked the Lincoln Memorial 'cause it had this sad feeling. And it was even more because of the Doric columns, there was the beautiful columns in front. But, when I was a kid that just seemed like prison bars. Like he was literally imprisoned in this stone box, forced to sit in the dark and stare at the floor, when he'd want to be able to get up and stretch his legs, walk through the sunshine, but dare we help him.
As I grew up and learned about Lincoln, and I learned a lot of the standard school boy things, the idea that it was a sad place wasn't in any way diminished because you do learn that there was so much sadness in Lincoln's life. The fact that he was assassinated, died before his time. The fact that he had to be president in such incredibly troubled times. You do learn that he was estranged from his wife, that he was very melancholic. So you do learn of him as a tragic hero. And, of course that tragedy just dovetailed with my impressions from childhood, so he always felt very sad to me.
Now that I'm an adult and a National Park Ranger and I actually work at the Lincoln Memorial, I realize I really wasn't far off as a child. It is a box, in a sense. But not in the sense of being a prison. It's a box, it's like a treasure box. It's not a sad place. A treasure box because it contains the ideas, the deeds that Lincoln fought and ultimately died for. It's full of all these beautiful ideas, like equality, freedom, unity. It's a treasure box that we open and use daily. So I don't think Lincoln is sitting in there sad, I think Lincoln would be very happy when he looks out from there and sees what this country has done with his ideas and his work.