Then + Now: The Lincoln Memorial
Four score and 11 years ago…the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C. It was a fitting date — Memorial Day.
While all men may be created equal, not all memorials measure up.
Though the marble edifice hasn’t changed much in the 91 years since its completion (artificial lights were unveiled in 1929, and an elevator was added in the mid-1970s), the nation Lincoln helped preserve is virtually unrecognizable.
The fight to eradicate racial prejudice may not have ended with the Emancipation Proclamation — a fact Martin Luther King, Jr., highlighted a century later in his “I Have a Dream” speech, which he delivered from the steps of the memorial — but the great man who issued the proclamation continues to humble and inspire.
I’m fortunate to live a short bike ride away from the national shrine, and I find myself returning to it again and again to reflect on Lincoln’s example and gain strength from his words.
To echo and paraphrase what the Great Emancipator said in his “Gettysburg Address,” it is for us the living to be dedicated to the unfinished work that has been so nobly advanced.
Here’s what the Lincoln Memorial looked like in its early days, and what it looks like today:
Fun fact: What’s in the cornerstone of the Lincoln Memorial?
Answer: When the cornerstone was laid — on Lincoln’s birthday (February 12) in 1915 — a box containing three copies of National Geographic magazine was placed inside. It was one of only two magazines to be so honored (the other being World’s Work). Daily newspapers, maps, and a document bearing the signatures of the president, the entire Cabinet, Senate, and Supreme Court, and nearly the entire House of Representatives, were also included in the box.
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Jonathan Irish is a professional photographer and a program director at National Geographic Adventures. Follow his story on Twitter @MagnumJI and on his website, jonathanirish.com.