After reading this article, you will never again look at this photo the same:
The Lincoln Memorial is arguably the most iconic of Washington, D.C.'s monuments.
Dedicated in 1922, the Greek-like temple enshrines the haunting, 19-foot-tall, 175-ton statue of Abraham Lincoln. The monument is iconic for it's deep significance to the American fabric and has served as the backdrop for some of the most consequential moments in America's history. The monument is open 24 hours a day and is graced by tens of millions each year from every corner of the globe.
However, there is a hidden part of the monument, rarely seen by the public. A cavernous, secret structure, which is part capsule, part architectural marvel reclaimed by nature. This reporter was treated to a rare tour of the 100-year-old cathedral beneath the Lincoln Memorial.
Construction on the Lincoln Memorial began in 1914. The location chosen for the monument was, like most of D.C. — swampland. According to the Architect of the Capitol:
Construction began on the Lincoln Memorial in 1914 on the muddy stretch of land known as the Potomac flats. The Army Corps of Engineers had just finished their 40 year long dredging and landfill project that produced the shoreline we know today.
Workers had to dig down 40 feet before work could begin on the marble monument. Here they poured dozens of concrete columns to support the surface structure.
The construction of the monument took eight years and cost $3 million.
Upon the dedication of the monument in 1922, the memorial as we know it today, was made open to the public and the structure supporting the massive weight of the actual monument was entombed beneath.
So what does the underside of the Lincoln Memorial look like? You have to enter through a discrete side door that most never even notice on the monument.
This is what the door looks like:
Through the door is a small, tiled holding room.
Down a series of lit staircases...
... past pipes and cables ...
...is the true floor of the Lincoln Memorial.
It's an absolutely cavernous, massive structure.
Large cement pillars line the cavernous rooms.
The rooms are sprawling. It's dark and hard to see the end of them.
The floor is dirt and covered in rubble ...
... and scraps of metal ...
... and old doors and bent fences ...
...and an old, rusted motor of some type.
Piping and water damage can be seen along the roof.
Some of the pipes are in rusty, bad condition.
But also along the ceiling are stalactites forming.
This creates a musty, cave-like environment where water is regularly dripping on you.
The stalactites are everywhere.
Along the endless caverns of pillars and stalactites, if you look closely, you will notice something spectacular: the pillars have charcoal drawings on them.
The memorial staff tells our tour:
These are charcoal drawings made by the workers who were building the monument. They were made sometime between 1914 and 1922, and are nearly perfectly preserved. We do not know who the artist or artists were. We just know it's a beautiful relic that shows us a snapshot in time.
A dog wagging its tail.
A man pointing.
Look at this one:
A flapper girl smoking.
A mustached man smoking.
A larger man smoking a pipe.
Some of the beautiful drawings are protected by plastic.
Some of the drawings are, um, crude.
Bored men in the 1920's, people.
The original turn of the century graffiti is not the only graffiti beneath the memorial.
A prop leftover from the “Forest Gump” film, perhaps?
The space is fascinating. Will the average tourist ever be able to get this tour? Hopefully, yes, in the near future.
According to the park official:
“We have plans to open up an underground tour. As you can see, there is a lot of work to do and there are also security concerns, so the process is slow. However, this should be seen by the pubic. It's a place frozen in time. We even have a donor who want's to give the money to open this to the public. It's just complicated business.”
So until then, when you look at images like these:
You know what they are really standing on.