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What Once Was

Washington’s Lincoln: The First Monument to the Martyred President

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Matthew B. Gilmore*

On May 30, 1922 a huge crowd of nearly 50,000 assembled for the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial at the far west end of the Mall. Congress recessed. President Harding and Chief Justice Taft addressed the assembled, as did Dr. Robert Moton of the Tuskegee Institute. It was a day of reconciliation for North and South. Few attending might have realized an ongoing struggle to restore Washington’s first memorial to President Lincoln was drawing to a close, nearly won.

2015 view of the Lincoln National Monument located in front of the DC Court of Appeals (originally, City Hall) on Indiana Ave. at 4th St., NW. photo--Lucas Bojarowski, imagesbylucas.com.

2015 view of the Lincoln National Monument located in front of the DC Court of Appeals (originally, City Hall) on Indiana Ave. at 4th St., NW. photo–Lucas Bojarowski, imagesbylucas.com.

A budget appropriation in 1919 for the District of Columbia included various innocuous, routine street improvement projects and an unnoticed item for the removal of a monument. That monument, the Lincoln National Monument had stood, towering over the Old City Hall, since 1868. This removal sparked outrage, precipitating a struggle to return it, while the Lincoln memorial rose on the banks of the Potomac.

Just a few days after Lincoln’s murder, the council of the City of Washington ordered the formation of a committee to create a monument to the assassinated president. The committee formed April 28, 1865 and soon took the name the Lincoln National Monument Association. Mayor Richard Wallach was the president, Crosby S. Noyes of the Evening Star served as secretary, George W. Riggs was the treasurer. A panoply of Washington eminences served as trustees, including Zalmon Richards, S.J. Bowen, Benjamin B. French, John Semmes, S.P. Brown, Dr. C.H. Nichols, Henry Addison among others.

Page from “National Lincoln Monument Association: Incorporated by Act of Congress, March 30, 1867 -- Printed at the Great Republic Office, 1867.”

Page from “National Lincoln Monument Association: Incorporated by Act of Congress, March 30, 1867 — Printed at the Great Republic Office, 1867.”

The express intent was to gain national public (financial) support, but ultimately competition from many individual local efforts nationwide limited subscribers to local citizens. In 1867 a broader-based organization, the National Lincoln Monument Association, was incorporated by Congress in the District. Its managers included national figures such as Speaker of the House Schulyer Colfax, Senator James Harlan, and Congressman Nathaniel P. Banks. It, too, saw little fundraising success.

Headline & subheads, April 15, 1868 Evening Star newspaper report on the dedication of the Washington Lincoln National Monument.

Headline & subheads, April 15, 1868 Evening Star newspaper report on the dedication of the Washington Lincoln National Monument.

The Lincoln National Monument was unveiled April 14, 1868, three years to the day of the assassination.

Lot Flannery was the sculptor. Flannery was well-known and respected, known best at the time for his monument in Congressional Cemetery dedicated to the victims of the tragic explosion at the Washington Arsenal in 1864. Flannery reputedly saw Lincoln in person, giving his sculpture the gloss of being from real life.

Flannery's Arsenal explosion monument located in the Congressional Cemetery, 1801 E St., SW, Washington, DC. photo--courtesy Library of Congress.

Flannery’s Arsenal explosion monument located in the Congressional Cemetery, 1801 E St., SW, Washington, DC. photo–courtesy Library of Congress.

The McClellan Gate at Arlington National Cemetery, the only remaining 19th Century gate at the cemetery, is also his work.

McClellan Gate at Arlington National Cemetery. The headstones seen to the left are in Section 12; those to the right lie in Section 33. photo--courtesy Tim1965 from Wikipedia Commons.

McClellan Gate at Arlington National Cemetery. The headstones seen to the left are in Section 12; those to the right lie in Section 33. photo–courtesy Tim1965 from Wikipedia Commons.

Flannery later competed unsuccessfully for the General John A. Logan statue for Iowa Circle in 1890, basing it on his bust of Logan done many years earlier; he also competed, and again lost, for the statue of West Virginia Senator John Kenna now in Statuary Hall. If not successful in these efforts he was at least still at times a figure in the social life of the city[ a party (or soiree) he gave in 1906 was noted at the time in the Evening Star.

When Flannery’s Lincoln National Monument was erected, it was the first memorial to a president completed in Washington City. Equestrian statues commemorated military service of General Andrew Jackson (1853) in Lafayette Square and George Washington (1860) in Washington Circle. Horatio Greenough’s Roman portrayal of Washington (1843) dominated grounds of the east front of the Capitol while the Washington Monument remained an embarrassing stump; construction, of course, had been interrupted in the 1850s and completion lay long in the future.

Louisiana Avenue originally extended from 4th Street in front City Hall southwestward to B Street (now Constitution Avenue); the short stretch down to Pennsylvania Avenue effectively became the westward extension of the original Indiana Avenue which had up to then been only three blocks long running southeastward from 4th Street. Present day Louisiana Avenue between Columbus Circle/Union Station and Constitution Avenue was created years later. image--1857 Boschke base map, Library of Congress, courtesy author.

Louisiana Avenue originally extended from 4th Street in front City Hall southwestward to B Street (now Constitution Avenue); the short stretch down to Pennsylvania Avenue effectively became the westward extension of the original Indiana Avenue which had up to then been only three blocks long running southeastward from 4th Street. Present day Louisiana Avenue between Columbus Circle/Union Station and Constitution Avenue was created years later. image–1857 Boschke base map, Library of Congress, courtesy author.

The Lincoln monument was placed in front of City Hall in the intersection of what was then designated Louisiana (now Indiana) Avenue and 4th Street NW. There was an impressive ceremony for theunveiling. Mayor Wallach closed city government offices and presided over the ceremony. Major Benjamin B. French gave the address (which runs to 16 published pages). French was a Mason, and the Commissioner of Public Buildings, and had long service in city politics. President Andrew Johnson only had the honor of pulling the cord to unveil the statue and did not address the crowd. Congressmen and senators were preoccupied by the impeachment proceedings against Johnson and did not attend. General Ulysses Grant notably kept his distance from the President, preferring to stay on the sidewalk to observe.

Description of the Lincoln National Monument.The Evening Star, April 15, 1868.

Description of the Lincoln National Monument.The Evening Star, April 15, 1868.

It’s notable that the monument was well-regarded (at least by the Star) when it was dedicated.

Stereograph view of Lincoln National Monument, looking south along 4th Street NW (now John Marshall Plaza), circa 1871. photo--courtesy John DeFerrari.

Stereograph view of Lincoln National Monument, looking south along 4th Street NW (now John Marshall Plaza), circa 1871. photo–courtesy John DeFerrari.

In 1871 a railing was finally added around the base of the monument, also designed by Lot Flannery.

In 1873 the Territorial government of the District of Columbia turned over the overcrowded, never-completed City Hall to the federal government. New government offices were planned for the prominent location a few blocks west at the intersection of Louisiana and Pennsylvania Avenues, the intended location of Center Market. With Center Market being built much closer to B Street (now Constitution Avenue), the land at the intersection was available.

Nothing ever came of those plans and the District finally did build its new municipal building –- known as the District Building until renamed in honor of former DC City Council Chairman John A. Wilson in 1994 — at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in 1908. (There is no indication anyone ever thought to relocate the Lincoln Monument to the District Building.) City Hall retained that name (or was called Old City Hall), despite the fact that local government had left.

Soon, however, other memorials to Lincoln were being promoted for Washington. In 1880 a (potentially monstrous) new memorial to Lincoln was proposed and evidently begun at Clark Mills’ foundry. Mills was responsible for the equestrian statues of Jackson and Washington and the statue of Freedom surmounting the Capitol dome. No location for installation of the monument had been designated and how much actual casting in bronze actually occurred remains unknown.

Headlines read “Thirty-six colossal bronze figures to be collected on a granite pile, seventy feet high. . . .” (which would be a bit shorter than twice the height of our Grant Memorial). Images of the proposed monument exist, showing something unlike any other memorial ever built in Washington.

Clark Mills’ unbuilt, proposed National Lincoln Monument, ca. 1880. photo==ourtesy Library of Congress.

Clark Mills’ unbuilt, proposed National Lincoln Monument, ca. 1880. photo==ourtesy Library of Congress.

Meanwhile renovation and expansion of Old City Hall was being completed in 1881. During the project it was reported in the news that the adjacent monument was on an unstable foundation, discovered during the review of plans to lower the street grade in front of the building by three feet. This was publicly disputed by Lieutenant. F.V. Greene of the office of the District Engineer Commissioner. Sculptor Flannery and Major Twining proposed moving the monument back 10 feet out of the path of the sidewalk and to lower the base. However, Greene arranged and designed the move of the monument back 30 feet, out of the roadway into sidewalk space and the lowering of it by three feet. The reconstruction was ultimately not as elaborate as proposed.

Lincoln Monument shown in in front of the DC courthouse around 1900; note that by then it had been relocated from the center of the street. photo--courtesy John DeFerrari.

Lincoln Monument shown in in front of the DC courthouse around 1900; note that by then it had been relocated from the center of the street. photo–courtesy John DeFerrari.

Now shifted out of the middle of the intersection, the monument remained a fixture of District life and civic pride. In May 1868, a laurel wreath had been placed on Lincoln’s brow for Memorial Day. More elaborate decorations were added in 1869. Decorating the statue was a routine part of the annual Memorial Day commemorations by 1892.

In 1902 another move was proposed, coinciding with further improvements to Old City Hall, this time to move the monument 25 feet north and lower it.

The statue was perhaps never considered an outstanding (or even excellent) work of art and there was no doubt it was awkwardly placed, first in the roadway, then sidewalk space. Even relocated, the future existence of the monument was threatened. In 1916 new renovation plans for Old City Hall were funded; 1917 newspaper coverage indicated the statue would remain. In 1918 the plans for renovating the building had (mysteriously) changed and included removal of the monument.

In 1919, historian and newspaperman John Clagett Proctor wrote in the Star against the imminent removal of the monument. Col. Clarence S. Ridley, director of Public Buildings and Grounds declared the monument out of all artistic proportion. It was removed early in January 1920.

Removal of the monument raised a firestorm of controversy. General Nelson Miles was quoted in the Star, “I cannot describe to you my feelings a few days ago when I saw men engaged in taking it down. It seemed a sacrilege.” Interestingly, the press never identified who inspired the removal. Commission of Fine Arts records document that Chief Justice of the District of Columbia Walter I. McCoy requested the removal. From the Commission minutes of May 22, 1918: “Chief Justice Walter I. McCoy of Supreme Court of DC had spoken with Col. Ridley; Ridley said McCoy called the statue ‘a frightful object to have in front of the building’ and wanted it removed. Commission supported proposal to remove but had no site within District to recommend; suggested moving it to some ‘minor court’ in courthouse or a niche along a corridor.”

He was evidently flexing some political muscle, having just been appointed as Chief Justice by fellow New Jerseyite President Woodrow Wilson. It was also he who asked the streetcar system to rename the “City Hall” destination to “Courthouse” since that is what the building was by then being used as. The Commission of Fine Arts did not exist when the Lincoln Monument was created, and its review jurisdiction in this instance was unclear.

Supreme Court of the District of Columbia Chief Justice Walter I. McCoy. McCoy had requested the monument be taken down. photo--Harris and Ewing, courtesy Library of Congress.

Supreme Court of the District of Columbia Chief Justice Walter I. McCoy. McCoy had requested the monument be taken down. photo–Harris and Ewing, courtesy Library of Congress.

The statue was put in storage, although it is unclear where. It never was lost or left in the mud, contrary to later mythmaking. There were proposals to move it to Spencer, Indiana or Moline, Illinois or Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Brightwood Citizens Association called for it to be installed at Fort Stevens. The Star editorialized, responding to a letter from John Clagett Proctor accusing Washingtonians of indifference to the statue’s fate. The Star considered that charge unfair, supported reinstallation at Fort Stevens but was most distressed by the original removal without provision for a new site. In April the Star reported that a Congressional committee turned down proposals to re-erect the statue in its original location. Howard University offered to take the statue.

Soon the temperature of political pressure rose — the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) led by Admiral George Washington Baird (who as a young man had contributed to the original monument fund back in the 1860s) lobbied Illinois Congressman Edward King. Baird had also served as president of the District’s Board of Education. Local opinion was aroused by the sheer blinkered insensitivity of Congress unilaterally (it appeared) deciding the fate of a monument paid for and created by residents of the District of Columbia, and by proposals to send it to some city in the Midwest.

In June 1921 President Harding had expressed his support for the monument’s restoration [1]. However, Representative King’s first attempt at legislation to restore the monument was rudely brushed aside —- the ongoing construction of the Lincoln Memorial was cited and Flannery was dismissed as a “grave stone artist” (a slighting reference to his Arsenal Disaster monument in Congressional Cenetery).

The true-to-life depiction of Lincoln was less valued than Daniel Chester French’s idealized portrait. In December the Washington Post reported the replacement on the site in front of the courthouse was unlikely with the Commission of Fine Arts supporting relocation to Fort Stevens.

But by early 1922 the tide had turned. On June 8, 1922 the Star was able to triumphantly report that the “Lincoln statue going back to original site” (at least approximately the same site). The Star editorialized and temporized about the monument and its restoration, saying the Commission “couldn’t correct all past artistic mistakes and shouldn’t try to impose current tastes . . . it couldn’t be a housecleaning body.” Much of existing statuary in the District was cited. The monument which Washingtonians had paid for and erected might have been considered an artistic mistake by various federal (and perhaps District) officials, but it was the District’s own memorial to the president.

On September 13, 1922 the Star reported that the Superintendent of Public Buildings planned the restoration to be complete “before the snow flies.” The November 2, 1922 Star reported on the AOI anniversary celebrations which included celebration of the return of the monument. Justice Wendell Phillips Stafford was inspired to jot a bit of doggerel poetry.

November 10, 1922 Evening Star newspaper report on the restoration of the Washington Lincoln National Monument to its original place at Indiana Ave. & 4th St. photo—courtesy author. .

November 10, 1922 Evening Star newspaper report on the restoration of the Washington Lincoln National Monument to its original place at Indiana Ave. & 4th St. photo—courtesy author. .

No comment ever appeared in the news from Flannery during the whole removal and restoration controversy. He died in December and was buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery on December 21, 1922, with simple but impressive rites, his obituary noting his works, including the restored Lincoln statue.

Justice Wendell Phillips Stafford. photo--courtesy Library of Congress.

Justice Wendell Phillips Stafford. photo–courtesy Library of Congress.

While memorials and monuments imply a permanence, the Lincoln Monument is one of many in Washington which have traveled, though none others represented the struggle of local and federal interests so starkly.

The Greenough statue of Washington once grandly reposed in front of the United States Capitol before changing tastes condemned it as an embarrassment. The Rawlins statue moved from Pennsylvania Avenue to Rawlins Park and the Meade Memorial was been relocated when Pennsylvania Avenue was reconfigured. The Tripoli Monument (Washington’s first) left Washington entirely, relocated to Annapolis. The Dupont statue was replaced with a fountain. The Titanic Memorial was moved from Foggy Bottom to Southwest.

But none of those none had the same kind of connection to, and resonance with, the citizens of Washington as did the Lincoln National Monument.

Special thanks to Kathryn Fanning, Historian of the Commission of Fine Arts and John DeFerrari for their assistance.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Footnotes

[1] Harding also clarified the legal and administrative tangle over District of Columbia memorials, issuing Executive Order 3524:

“It is hereby ordered that essential matters relating to the design of medals, insignia and coins, produced by the executive departments, also the designs of statues, fountains and monuments, and all important plans for parks and all public buildings, constructed by executive departments or the District of Columbia, which in any essential way affect the appearance of the City of Washington, or the District of Columbia, shall be submitted to the Commission of Fine Arts for advice as to the merits of such designs before the executive officer having charge of the same shall approve thereof. [emphasis added]

“WARREN G. HARDING
The WHITE HOUSE,
July 28, 1921”

*Matthew B. Gilmore is the editor of the H-DC discussion list and blogs on Washington history and related subjects at matthewbgilmore.wordpress.com; he is also on the Board of Directors of Humanities DC. Previously, he was a reference librarian at the Washingtoniana Division of the DC Public Library for a number of years and chaired the Annual Conference on DC Historical Studies for four years.

© 2015 InTowner Publishing Corp. & Matthew B. Gilmore. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part, including for commercial purposes, without permission is prohibited.

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