The “cave” under the Lincoln Memorial: Washington, D.C.

Beneath the Lincoln Memorial 6 Sep 94

There is a “cavern” under the Lincoln Memorial.  It once had stalactites; it may still have them.

The Lincoln Memorial means so much.

For American history buffs, Lincoln was truly a giant among men, perhaps the only man who could have held the Union together through the Civil War.

More stalactites beneath the Lincoln Memorial 6 Sep 94

For others, it represents civil rights not civil war.  Marion Anderson sang there on Easter Sunday 1939 after being denied access to the Daughters of The American Revolution’s Constitution Hall.  Martin Luther King delivered his 1963 I have a dream speech from the Memorial’s steps.

Like almost any government project, the memorial was controversial and took longer to construct than expected.

Squabbles over design lasted from the 1860s until 1914.  One major concern was the swampy land where it was to be located.   The land was reputed to be a dumping ground for murder victims and not suitable for such a distinguished monument.

Early 1900s graffiti beneath the Lincoln Memorial

Most of the memorial was up by 1917, but World War I got in the way, and it wasn’t completed until 1922.

Marble and limestone (this is important to our story) from Alabama, Colorado, Indiana and Tennessee were used for the upper portion.  Massachusetts granite was used in the terrace walls and steps.

For Alie and me, it is all of the above and more.  It is a place of nostalgia and one unusual tourist adventure.

Two students on tight budgets in the 1960s would meet, one working late into the night in the “attic” of the Cannon House Office building, the other researching at the Library of Congress.  There were few places open late in the evening, even for a cup of coffee.  But we could visit the Lincoln Memorial 24 hours a day.  Security back then meant an occasional park policeman wandered by.  We sat between the columns, feet dangling over the side, looking at the Reflecting Pool, the Washington Monument and the National Mall.  Once, a full moon rose over the Capitol Building.

Our stalactite from beneath the Lincoln Memorial — yes it is upside down.

Fast forward to 1994.  The superintendent of a construction project at our condominium building was also the superintendent of a project to restore and strengthen the foundation of the Lincoln Memorial.  He invited us visit.  We did.

Entering through a metal door at the back of a bathroom [now remodeled out of existence], we found ourselves in a huge cavern.  Far above us was the floor where tourists trod looking at Lincoln’s statute.  We went down steps to the cavern floor below ground level.  The walls of the cavern on three sides were the Memorial’s foundation.  On the fourth side, the ceiling extended out ever-lower beneath the steps toward the Reflecting Pool.

Early 1900s construction workers put still-visible graffiti on support columns and walls.

Over decades, water seeped through fine cracks in the limestone.  Just as in a natural cave, the seeping water formed stalactites hanging from the ceiling.  We were permitted to take one.  We still have it.

Click on photos to enlarge.

P.S.  Sculptor Daniel Chester French gave Lincoln an exceptionally interesting and pensive expression.  When you visit, walk to the far right and look at him.  Then walk to the far left and look at him.  From one side, he has a small smile; from the other, he has a small frown.

P.P.S.  As I wrote in another post, familiarity breeds indifference. In tens of thousands of my photos, I could not find one of the Lincoln Memorial.

About ralietravels

Ray and Alie (Ralie) are a retired couple who love to travel. Even during our working years, we squeezed a trip in whenever we could, often when we had to stretch the budget to do so. We have been fortunate to vacation in all 50 states, all the provinces of Canada and one territory and a little more than 50 countries. We like to drive, but we particularly love to travel back roads to find unusual sights, people, and experiences.
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32 Responses to The “cave” under the Lincoln Memorial: Washington, D.C.

  1. Super post! Interesting and informative as ever but also Intriguing and thrilling. And also, your “indifference” theory is so true. I barely have any photos of the main “tourist landmarks” of my home town of London (UK).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sue Slaght says:

    I love the history behind this, both Lincoln’s but your own personal dating. I had no idea about the cave.

    Liked by 1 person

    • ralietravels says:

      We spent a lot of time there but also had no idea about the huge space underneath until 1994. That, of course, is not open to the public but you can look for Lincoln’s changing expression.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Keith and Loraine Beckman says:

        I was really surprised at that history. A lot of it you don’t get in history books. How nice you met somebody who could take you on such a scenic tour. It is neat to have a souvenir to show about the Memorial. thanks again for the lesson. Hugs Loraine

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Marjorie Ewell says:

    What a great story. And, how fortunate you both were to have that privileged visit. The stalactite is beautiful….a treasure .

    Liked by 1 person

  4. dave ply says:

    A fascinating experience, and a piece of history. Quite the trip.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great story, Ray… from the very beginning. Both romantic and historical. And I never knew about the underground chamber. Thanks. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

  6. N N says:

    So interesting….

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

  7. This cave looks stunning. I would love to visit it soon!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. One day, those graffiti in the cave will be a big historical rarity.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. The Log Cabin Sage says:

    Reblogged this on The Log Cabin Sage and commented:
    Here’s some VERY interesting Lincoln Memorial travel trivia to spice up a visit to that awesome monument. Enjoy!


  10. Dee Gilbert says:

    I didn’t know this. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Alan H says:

    Do you know if the drawings relate to anyone or are they just random figures ?

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Fascinating! Sounds like the setting for one of those ‘National Treasure’ movies.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Wow. Thanks for taking us to a part unseen and the history lesson along the way.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Wow! A most surprising, as well as informative post.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. equipsblog says:

    Fascinating post.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. That’s so fascinating! Thanks for posting.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Great personal story and well told.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Stella Lukeman Souder says:

    Wellllll I am more thrilled than ever reading about the cave”. I can’t remember the exact year but believe it was in the 90’s when we had a 4-H Forum in Md. one evening we were invited to visit this unique scene. We were limited to , I believe it, 15 or so, and I was lucky enough to be chosen to attend. It was done very quietly and we were told how lucky we were to witness this cave. I remember going thru a door and then this cavernous area opened up, so clean, cool and refreshing. The temp. Stays the same year round which is why they allow so few to enter. If throngs could do so, it would change temperature and the Chrystal’s could not form. Believe it or not, under the stairs were many many formed Chrystal’s hanging like icicles…, just beautiful. We could only stay a limited time, few folks at a time, only so many groups a day and only certain times of the year. I was awed and felt very special to have seen this hidden gem. We also learned as high as the memorial is above ground it was double the height under. So that gives some perspective of the enormity of this undertaking so many years ago!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Pingback: If We Could Only Read One of Your Posts … Which One? – GALLIVANCE

  20. How fascinating, Ray and Alie. You’ve rocked my world! We used to live in D.C., butI I had no idea about the cavern, Marion Anderson, and Lincoln’s smile. When I told James (the geologist) about the limestone and stalactites, he was amazed. This is such a great twist on a place familiar to many. Well done! 🙂 ~Terri

    Liked by 1 person

  21. lynnfay73 says:

    Very cool. I was just refreshing my memory to see if Dan Brown right about that in The Lost Symbol. I think he hit most spots in Washington D.C. Maybe not that one. How fascinating! I imagine they will be gunning for that memorial soon. What a tragedy…. Neat pictures.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. lynnfay73 says:

    sorry, wrote about that… gees.


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