(CNN) — It appears so everlasting, would not it?
The gleaming white marble. The large columns. The enormous statue of a person sitting straight up with function and solemn dignity. The face is smart and weary and staring resolutely forward. The arms — one clinched and the opposite relaxed. The inscribed speeches calling us to seek out our higher angels and forge forward.
Surely it has been there eternally, reminding us and humbling us and guiding us.
Yet the Lincoln Memorial has been with us simply 100 years. It opened on the National Mall, the Potomac River flowing behind it, on May 30, 1922. That was 57 years after President Abraham Lincoln was felled by an murderer’s bullet scant days after the Civil War had formally ended.
Since then, hundreds of thousands of guests — US residents and folks from world wide — come yearly to bask in the majesty of the traditional Greece-inspired temple and to glean some knowledge from the sixteenth president of the United States.
In November 1981, I used to be one of these folks.
‘Remember this second’
A go to to the Lincoln Memorial can encourage awe and hope.
It was a surreal expertise. I had ventured out of the Deep South solely as soon as earlier than in my life when I discovered myself trying up awe-struck at Lincoln’s statue.
My college’s journalism fraternity had sponsored a DC journey throughout my sophomore yr. Much of that journey is misplaced to mists of time now. I even needed to seek the advice of a university good friend to nail down the time for sure.
But the reminiscence of my first go to to the Lincoln Memorial itself stays as clear because the chilly, moonlit night time I made it on.
Our resort wasn’t distant, and I sneaked away from the group to see it. Hardly anybody else was there. Being in close to solitude with no distractions enhanced all of it.
I wasn’t ready for what I noticed. Or felt.
Flooded in gentle at night time, I used to be moved by the sweetness. But it was the inscriptions that emotionally overwhelmed me — particularly the ending strains of the Second Inaugural Address on the north chamber wall.
With malice towards none, with charity for all, with firmness in the correct as God provides us to see the correct, allow us to attempt on to complete the work we’re in to bind up the nation’s wounds, to look after him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan ~ to do all which can obtain and cherish a simply and lasting peace amongst ourselves and with all nations.
We have been going through our personal troubles in the autumn of 1981. The United States was in a deep recession. The risk of nuclear struggle with the Soviet Union was a relentless underlying anxiousness. And assassination was in the air once more — Anwar Sadat of Egypt had been killed simply weeks earlier, and President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II survived makes an attempt on their lives in the spring.
It was simple to really feel nervous in regards to the future — mine, the nation’s and the world’s. But there sat President Lincoln, carrying burdens few would ever perceive throughout America’s best disaster, pointing the best way ahead.
I paused on the best way out to take a seat on the steps of the memorial, on their lonesome however feeling the arms of my nation round me and virtually giddy with a hope bolstered by youthful optimism. A brilliant moon lit up the mall with the Washington Monument and US Capitol in the background. And I advised myself, “Remember this moment. Remember this moment. …”
The nation in 1922
Lincoln was a controversial determine, particularly in the defeated South.
A groundbreaking befell in 1914, on land decried by some critics as a swamp.
I’m wondering what private feelings and ideas they could have had trying on the brand-new construction so lengthy in the making.
The memorial is of Neoclassical design and primarily based on the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. Maybe that provides it that air of permanence.
According to the NPS, “It consists of a main level on a high raised basement with a recessed attic story above. The building stands in splendid isolation in a landscaped circle at the west end of the National Mall.
“A colonnade of 36 Doric columns, representing the quantity of States in the Union on the time of Lincoln’s dying, surrounds the memorial chamber.”
Inside, the 19-foot-high statue towers over the visitor, much as his legacy towers over the country.
Americans in May 1922 were in a period of progress and pushback. The United States enjoyed victory with the Allies in World War I, but communists were on the verge of officially forming the USSR.
America was one nation again, but much work remained.
The next 100 years
Contralto Marian Anderson made history when she sang at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday in 1939.
Universal History Archive/UIG/Shutterstock
In the 100 years since it opened, the Lincoln Memorial has been the backdrop of national celebrations and witness to pivotal and emotional moments in US history. That’s especially true in the realm of civil rights.
And as we hit the 100th anniversary day on May 30, which lands appropriately enough on Memorial Day, our troubles remain.
A climate crisis that Lincoln could never imagine hovers over us. Moscow is once again an enemy. The scourge of inflation is back. Violent crime is up. The pandemic might not be done with us yet. And from a church in Charleston, South Carolina, to a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, slavery’s hateful and murderous legacy continues more than 150 years later with no end in sight.
Fireworks go off over the Lincoln Memorial on July 4, 2019. It is the backdrop of many a national celebration.
It sure feels like a nation divided, and I feel more worried about the future than ever. Youthful optimism has been replaced some 40 years later with hard-earned disappointment and seemingly justified pessimism.
Still, we will go to the memorial. And hope. What else can we do? Give up? Lincoln didn’t. Millions will continue to ascend those steps, and some will find wonderment and insight. On the south chamber wall are these words from the Gettysburg Address:
It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us ~ that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion ~ that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain ~ that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom ~ and that government of the people by the people for the people shall not perish from the earth.
That durable memorial, born of crisis and war, is a bastion of hope. Maybe our solutions rest there. If not solutions, at least the encouragement to endure fiery trials.
How to visit the Lincoln Memorial
It is open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. The NPS says “early night and morning hours are stunning and tranquil times to go to.”
The memorial is at the western end of the National Mall, a two-mile (3.2-kilometer) walk from the US Capitol with the Washington Monument in between the two.
Forrest Brown attended the University of South Carolina from 1980 to 1983, and he began working with CNN Digital in 2008.