By Edward Epstein
Wednesday, May 30, 2023
With travel for tourism and business getting back to its pre-pandemic levels, more travelers along Amtrak's busy Northeast Corridor are noticing a towering likeness of Abraham Lincoln looking at them just a few minutes north of Washington's Union Station.
The huge Lincoln is part of an epic 130-panel mural called "28 Blocks,"referring to the 28 slabs of marble that went into creating Daniel Chester French's 150-ton statue of a seated Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in the nation's capital. Rather than a tribute to Lincoln, the mural, created by artist Gavin Baker, pays homage to the African-American men who mined the Georgia marble that was used in creating French's statue.
“In 1916 and 1917, the sons and grandsons of slaves, first-and-second generation freemen, African-Americans, quarried those stones,” Baker told Washington's public radio station WAMU in 2017, when his mural was installed on a warehouse building in northeast Washington.
The mural on the east side of the Penn Building is right on the Metropolitan Branch Trail, a busy pathway for bicyclists, walkers and joggers and dog walkers. The mural is a few blocks north of the NoMa-Gallaudet Station on Washington's Metro Red Line. Metro shares tracks in the area with Amtrak trains along the corridor that extends north to New York City and on to Boston and with MARC commuter trains that come south from Baltimore.
So if you're traveling on any of those rail services, look west after you pass the NoMa-Gallaudet Metro station and the mural, commissioned by the D.C. government as part of its Art on the Trails program, will whiz by.
The mural, which at its tallest is four stories high, is in a rapidly gentrifying part of Washington, with thousands of new apartments, a few new hotels, and plenty of shops. Rents in the area are pricey. The actual address of the mural is 1709 3rd St NE in Washington.
The mural also includes the Piccirilli Brothers, the Italian immigrants who actually carved French's statue at their block-long workshop in the Bronx. They were among the country's foremost carvers of statuary, but unfortunately all their archives disappeared when the business closed in 1945.
In its six years, the mural has not been spared getting tagged by graffiti vandals, who have marred the lower sections of the work. The mural was coated in polyurethane to protect it from the elements, but that apparently doesn't shield it from graffiti.
The mural also honors Frederick Douglass and includes a poem the African-American abolitionist wrote.
(Photos by John O'Brien and Ed Epstein)