25. "He Simply Went to Sleep"
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405 25 “He Simply Went to Sleep” May 30, 1922, was a warm and sunny spring day in Washington as fifty thousand people crowded the National Mall from the steps of the Lincoln memorial to the mile-distant base of the Washington Monument. This throng of citizens represented an incalculable array of age, race, gender, financial status, political affiliation, and nationality, all of them present to pay tribute to the memory of Abraham Lincoln. The few remaining wizened veterans, both Union and Confederate, of the Civil War stood at the front of the crowd at the base of the Lincoln Memorial steps. Distinguished attendees seated at various tiers along the steps included members of Congress, justices of the Supreme Court, governors, military officials , and foreign diplomats. In the Memorial Hall itself, where the speaker’s rostrum stood, sat the members of the Lincoln Memorial Commission, the architect and the sculptor, the day’s orators, the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, members of the president’s cabinet and their wives, President and Mrs. Harding, and distinguished guests. As the attendees assembled that afternoon, one in particular stood out to many in the crowd. He was an elderly man with a white beard, carrying a cane, and wearing a black suit and a familiar black stovepipe hat.1 He was escorted and assisted by a two-man military honor guard up the fifty-seven steps from the road to the top. The old man was seventy-nine-year-old Robert T. Lincoln, only surviving son of the president, who was accompanied by his wife, Mary (and his personal physician).2 When they reached their seats on the top tier of the memorial, they were given a loud ovation from the crowd.3 For Robert, this day would be one of the most moving of his life. Of all the monuments to Abraham Lincoln since his death in 1865, the Lincoln Memorial was to be the most impressive, and the most national, in chapter twenty-five 406 nature. Planning began at the turn of the twentieth century, with the location in Potomac Park selected in 1901 and the political machinery started in 1902. A Lincoln Memorial Commission, chaired by President Taft and tasked with the job of bringing the project to fruition, was created in 1911, and construction begun in 1912.4 Architect Henry Bacon designed the memorial building in the form of an ancient Greek temple standing 190 feet long, 119 feet wide, and almost 100 feet high. In the central hall, flanked by two of his greatest speeches carved into the walls, sits a nineteen-feet-high, white-marble statue of President Abraham Lincoln seated in a flag-draped chair, the creation of renowned American artist Daniel Chester French.5 During the decade-long process of creating the Lincoln Memorial, Robert Lincoln kept himself informed of the political debates, the artistic considerations , and the construction progress. During 1913 and 1914, he held a correspondence with commission chair Taft concerning the political arguments over construction materials that threatened to derail the entire project.6 In 1915, Robert participated in the laying of the memorial’s cornerstone by contributing a history of his father that he, the son, had signed, to be placed in the copper box in the keystone.7 In 1916, Robert visited French’s studio to view the sculptor’s model of the Lincoln Memorial statue, at which meeting he offered suggestions on its likeness that French professed to be most helpful.8 In 1920, Robert requested and received permission from the U.S. Corps of Engineers to visit the memorial and show it to a group of friends while it was still under construction.9 Because he admired the memorial so much, Robert was deeply appreciative of all the politicians who helped make it a reality. He was particularly grateful to U.S. Representative John W. Dwight of New York, Republican majority whip, who played a key role in marshalling the necessary support to pass the final appropriation bill on the House of Representatives—for without the funding, the memorial never would have been built.10 In 1916, Robert wrote a note of thanks to Dwight for his work. He also sent him a gift of the original handwritten manuscript of the speech President Lincoln gave from the White House immediately after the 1864 election. “I wish you to have something tangible as a testimonial of my feeling and which may be associated by you in...



Subject Headings

  • Lawyers -- United States -- Biography.
  • Lincoln, Robert Todd, 1843-1926.
  • Children of presidents -- United States -- Biography.
  • Ambassadors -- United States -- Biography.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1865-1933.
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