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A "Hidden Gem" of a Lincoln Site

By Wendy Swanson

Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024


Actually, the site is right there in plain view and many, if not most of us, know it well. Yet, that impressive tower of Lincoln books, found in the Ford’s Theatre Center for Education and Leadership lobby, is being hailed as one of Washington’s “Hidden Gems” in an article appearing in the January 2024 edition of Washingtonian magazine.


Actually, Ford’s Theatre itself is considered the “gem.” The towering collection of Lincoln titles though is obviously a major attention getter – two photos of the tower (shown on the left) illustrate the article and they do catch one’s eye. This is one of the most unusual of the many tributes locally - or elsewhere - honoring Lincoln.


The tower was built in 2012 to commemorate Lincoln’s legacy in a visual manner. Over 15,000 books have been written about Lincoln – and the count is continually increasing. The tower then is a symbol of the Lincoln legacy as represented by the works written about him.


Consisting of about 6800 books, the tower is 34 feet high and 8 feet around. A stairway – three or so stories high – encircles the structure. The books look authentic – but don’t try to pull one out of the tower to add to your own collection. Likewise, do not worry about these books being burned. This is a sculpture. The books are made from bent aluminum, fireproof in nature. Experts printed book covers on the metal to give the volumes a realistic look. Each book was glued into place by hand; the entire sculpture took ten days to construct.


To watch a fast-action video depicting the sculpture construction, click here.


According to Ford’s, most of the 205 titles represented on the tower are currently in print; titles are repeated throughout the structure. That towering pile of almost 7,000 volumes then actually represents only a very small percentage of all Lincoln books. Over 50 publishers were contacted to obtain permissions for inclusion of books for the work. Book selection focused heavily on the man himself with related subjects (Civil War events, Mary Todd Lincoln, etc.) less likely to be included. The tower design was completed in 2010 so no publications after date are part of the tower collection.


In a National Public Radio broadcast on February 12, 2012, Paul Tetreault, director of Ford’s Theatre, emphasized that books “for people of all ages” are represented on the tower. He advised that these include not just Lincoln best sellers but also Abraham Lincoln sticker and coloring books. 


The Washingtonian article describes these sites as ones that are “off the typical tourist circuit,” while acknowledging that much rests “in the eye of the beholder.” What excites a newcomer to an area might not have the same effect on a long-time resident. The “Hidden Gems” cover locations ranging from food favorites to other museums, art and spots of nature. Also recommended for Lincoln fans is an optional “gem” – Lincoln’s Cottage.


Now I need to go check out one of those other “gems” myself – the “Kilroy was here” cartoon somewhere on DC’s World War II Memorial.


(Photo credit: David J, Kent)

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