A child said it looked like Play-Doh.
But the statue was solid as always. The right foot, in a square-toe boot, slightly forward. The left hand closed. The white marble face, devoid of the ravages that the Civil War etched on the human face, looked east out over the Mall.
The hallowed memorial was fully reopened at 6:30 p.m., many hours after someone splashed paint on the statue overnight and fled.
The National Park Service said it was the first time that the majestic memorial was vandalized since its dedication in 1922 in the presence of Lincoln’s son, Robert. It was closed briefly after the 2011 earthquake.
U.S. Park Police said they had opened an investigation but had no suspects. The police said the memorial is guarded during the overnight hours but declined to go into detail.
The Park Service said paint that had landed on the floor of the chamber had been cleaned up by mid-afternoon.
As for the statue, “there is still some residue on there,” said Carol Bradley Johnson, a spokeswoman for National Mall and Memorial Parks. “We’ll be back there Monday.”
“We’re using gentle materials to remove it,” she said. “We’re still confident that there’ll be no damage that’s permanent.”
Many visitors who gazed at the vandalism Friday seemed dumbfounded.
Young people visiting for the first time appeared especially dismayed.
“It’s disrespectful,” said Nicholas Flowers, 15, of Sunbury, Pa., as he stood at the entrance to the chamber. “That is probably one of the most rude things you can do to a great leader.”
He was in town with a school group from Pennsylvania studying leadership.
“This is probably one of the worst displays of leadership, because vandalism is just something that shouldn’t be okay,” he said.
Keashla Marengo, 23, of Bloomsburg, Pa., said: “I think it’s terrible. I don’t know why someone would do that. It is very disrespectful. And, like Nick said, it does not show leadership at all.”
Tamika Austin, 22, of Philadelphia, a senior at Bloomsburg University, said: “For my first visit, it’s kind of sad. To have to see this on my first time being here.”
Johnson called the incident “heartbreaking.”
“People come from all over the world to see [the monuments and memorials], and it’s just really disturbing that someone would do this,” she said. “The Park Service takes great pride in taking care of these national icons, and anything like this is devastating to us.”
Scattered damage has plagued Washington’s statues and monuments over the years.
The equestrian statue of Civil War Gen. George B. McClellan, at Connecticut Avenue and Columbia Road, is missing one of the original bronze shields around its base.