Sometimes science traveling means traveling back in time rather than place. This past Friday I was transported back to 1922, the year the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated. We had gathered to commemorate the 207th birthday of our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. Several organizations were present to lay wreaths, including the Lincoln Group of DC, whom I was representing.
The Memorial is styled as a Greek temple and made of Yule marble shipped in from Colorado. I discovered something about the science of marble during the event – it’s cold. Temperatures were in the zero degree (Fahrenheit) area, and the physics of metal chairs conducting the cold from the marble floors as wind swirled around us was noticeably emphatic.
Despite the cold there were many visitors gazing in awe up at the 19-foot tall seated statue of Lincoln. Quickly noticed are the Gettysburg Address and 2nd Inaugural Address etched into the side walls and the epitaph over Lincoln’s head. More observant visitors would notice the 36 Doric columns surrounding the Memorial, one for each of the states that comprised the Union at the time of Lincoln’s death. The names of the states and their date of statehood are engraved over the colonnade.
Easily overlooked, but not to be missed, is the inscription on the steps where Martin Luther King, Jr. stood as he gave his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, one hundred years after Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
The wreath laying event was organized by the Lincoln’s Birthday National Commemorative Committee, which is associated with the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States. In the photo above, Col. Andrew Johnson of MOLLUS admires the wreath laid by President Obama earlier in the day. The photo below captures the wreaths of the Lincoln Group of DC and the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church (“Lincoln’s Church) after they had been presented.
Of course, Presidents Day honors more than just Abraham Lincoln; George Washington’s birthday is February 22nd and the federal holiday was originally solely to celebrate his birth (while Lincoln’s birth was celebrated officially by many individual states). Over the years the day has come to mean different things to different people, but generally serves to remember all 43 U.S. Presidents and those to come.
Later this week is yet another celebration of Lincoln’s influence on the world. Check out the February 18th free program being held at the National Archives in downtown Washington, D.C.
David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (now in its 5th printing) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in spring 2016.