The 19-foot Abraham Lincoln who sits his temple, gazing at the Reflecting Pool and Washington obelisk, has not changed much since he was completed in the early twenties. Yet I always find the sheer size of his statue simply ingenious. Hundreds of people at once can feel as if they are able to look full in the face of our most iconic President–a rare treat from the days of peculiar photographs. From the monument’s floor, I can easily examine the untidy hair, deep-set eyes, hollow cheeks, and resolute mouth, and sense that he is still somehow presiding.
What a complex man. The monument committee that got to work within a couple years of his assassination gave us a riveting, kingly image that compels us to recall his unpropitious childhood and the marvel of American labor and ambition–internal advantage. To children, Lincoln is a hero. To readers, he is more. We understand at least in part that to accomplish what he did in the crucible of a civil war, he had to do much more than sign a proclamation and speak movingly about the noble sacrifices made on a battlefield. He had to master people and the art of manipulation, or perhaps compulsion. In a sense, he retains that power over a good portion of the world’s population today. A remarkable man indeed.
In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.