Memorials to Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln, U.S. president 1861–65, has been memorialized in many town, city, and county names, Along with George Washington, he is an iconic image of American democracy and nationalism. However, postmodern downplaying of "great white men" has led to a decline in his centrality in recent decades.
Barry Schwartz, a sociologist who has examined America's cultural memory, argues that in the 1930s and 1940s, the memory of Abraham Lincoln was practically sacred and provided the nation with “a moral symbol inspiring and guiding American life.” During the Great Depression, he argues, Lincoln served “as a means for seeing the world’s disappointments, for making its sufferings not so much explicable as meaningful.” Franklin D. Roosevelt, preparing America for war, used the words of the Civil War president to clarify the threat posed by Germany and Japan. Americans asked, “What would Lincoln do?” However, he also finds that since World War II, Lincoln’s symbolic power has lost relevance, and this “fading hero is symptomatic of fading confidence in national greatness.” He suggested that postmodernism and multiculturalism have diluted greatness as a concept.
While Lincoln remains in the very top tier of presidential rankings, all of the presidents have slipped in historical prestige in the public's mind. Schwartz said the reason is what he calls the “acids of equality”: as American culture became more diverse, egalitarian, and multicultural, it also suffered a “deterioration and coarsening of traditional symbols and practices.”
Lincoln sites remain popular tourist attractions, but crowds have thinned. In the late 1960s, 650,000 people a year visited the home in Springfield, slipping to 393,000 in 2000–2003. Likewise visits to New Salem fell by half, probably because of the enormous draw of the new museum in Springfield. Visits to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington peaked at 4.3 million in 1987 and have since declined. However crowds at Ford's Theatre in Washington have grown sharply.
The memorials include the capital of Nebraska. The first public monument to Abraham Lincoln was a statue erected in front of the District of Columbia City Hall in 1868, three years after his assassination. Lincoln's name and image appear in numerous other places, such as the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. and Lincoln's sculpture on Mount Rushmore, Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park in Hodgenville, Kentucky, Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Lincoln City, Indiana, Lincoln's New Salem, Illinois, and Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield, Illinois commemorate the president. Ford's Theatre and Petersen House (where he died) are maintained as museums, as is the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, located in Springfield. The Lincoln Tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois, contains his remains and those of his wife Mary and three of his four sons, Edward, William, and Thomas.
On the night of November 7, 1876, a group of counterfeiters entered Lincoln's tomb with the intent of absconding with his mortal remains and holding them for ransom in order to secure the release of their leader, Benjamin Boyd, an imprisoned engraver of counterfeit currency plates. The group entered his tomb, but had only succeeded in partially dislodging its marble lid before a US Secret Service agent who had infiltrated their number alerted law enforcement authorities. Although several escaped, most served a one-year prison term. For much of the next decade (c. 1876 – 1887), Lincoln's tomb was mobile, to avoid further unwanted disinterment.
Stamps, currency and coins
Lincoln was one of five people to be depicted on United States paper currency (federal issue) during their lifetime (along with Salmon P. Chase, Francis E. Spinner, Spencer M. Clark, and Winfield Scott). He has been featured on several denominations ($1, $5, $10, $20, $100, and $500) across different issues (e.g., Demand Notes, Legal Tender, Gold Certificates, Silver Certificates, etc.) since the first federally issued U.S. Bank Note in 1861. In addition to the modern United States five-dollar bill, currency honoring the president includes the Lincoln cent, which represents the first regularly circulating U.S. coin to feature an actual person's image.
Lincoln's image on the five-dollar bill was used by Salvador Dalí to help commemorate the U.S. Bicentennial with his creation of "Gala looking at the Mediterranean Sea which at a distance of 20 meters is transformed into the portrait of Abraham Lincoln (Homage to Rothko)" and Lincoln in Dalivision, the earlier of which was displayed at The Guggenheim in New York during the 1976 Bicentennial.
The first statue of Lincoln outside the United States was erected in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1893. The work of George Edwin Bissell, it stands on a memorial to Scots immigrants who enlisted with the Union during the Civil War, the only memorial to the war erected outside the United States. A second statue by George Grey Barnard was erected in Manchester, England in 1919. Situated in Lincoln Square south of Manchester Town Hall, the statue commemorates the impact the American Civil War had on the cotton-producing region of Manchester and Lancashire. A large statue of Lincoln standing was unveiled near Westminster Abbey in London, on July 28, 1920, in an elaborate ceremony. The principal addresses were delivered in the abbey church.
Abraham Lincoln's birthday, February 12, was never a national holiday, but it was at one time observed by as many as 30 states. In 1971, Presidents Day became a national holiday, combining Lincoln's and Washington's birthdays and replacing most states' celebration of his birthday. The Abraham Lincoln Association was formed in 1908 to commemorate the centennial of Lincoln's birth. In 2000, Congress established the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission to commemorate his 200th birthday in February 2009.
- Dennis, p. 194.
- Barry Schwartz, Abraham Lincoln in the Post-Heroic Era: History and Memory in Late Twentieth-Century America (2009) pp. xi, 9, 24
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- Schwartz (2009), pp. 153–155.
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