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Lincoln Memorial in Washington

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Built atop a swamp in sight of the Potomac River and Arlington National Cemetery, the memorial honors the 16th president. Sculptor Daniel Chester French and architect Henry Bacon collaborated to build the memorial, which is modeled after the Temple of Zeus at Olympia and other Greek masterpieces. Construction began in 1914 on Lincoln's birthday, Feb. 12. The building, dedicated in 1922, is made of Indiana limestone and marble from Colorado; the statue is Georgia marble.

It has been the site of numerous historic events that carried Lincoln's message, including Martin Luther King's 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech and Marian Anderson's 1939 performance before 70,000 people after the Daughters of the American Revolution denied her permission to sing at Constitution Hall.

What's special: Some historians contend that Lincoln takes on mythical or exaggerated importance as a result of the hugeness of the monuments dedicated to him. The Lincoln Memorial, with its nearly 20-foot statue of the president, is one. Still, Lincoln occupies an important place in U.S. history, and like the Statue of Liberty, the memorial represents freedom as much as it honors a former president.

One thing you didn't know: The word "future" is misspelled as "euture" in the Second Inauguration speech that's carved on an interior wall.

Best way to see it: Like other monuments, the Lincoln Memorial has peak and non-peak times. By far, though, the best time to visit is at sunrise. Sit on the top step with an arrow-straight view of the Washington Monument and U.S. Capitol and watch the light turn the Reflecting Pool shades of soft pastels. It's magnificent any time of year, though the starkness of winter adds an ethereal quality.

Free recorded talks by National Park Service rangers are available for cellphone users by calling 202-747-3420.

What to expect: During summer, the monument -- and its small gift shop -- is packed with visitors from around the world. With the sun reflecting off the bone-white marble, it can get warm (though the back of the monument, with its views of the eternal flame at John F. Kennedy's grave site at Arlington Cemetery, can be a shaded hideaway).

Parking is limited; the Foggy Bottom Metro is a 15-minute walk away, or hop off the Blue Line at Arlington Cemetery and walk across Memorial Bridge for a view. The memorial is open 24 hours a day; admission is free.

Where to eat: There's not much around except for a concession stand across the street.

More info: 202-426-6841,

© 2008 The Washington Post Company