Lincoln Is No. 1, but Questions Loom
By Edward Epstein
Monday, July 25, 2022
The fact that there are more monuments to Abraham Lincoln in the U.S. than anyone else, as reported in the Washington Post on July 24, was hardly surprising.
But a little digging behind that factoid shows that the total surfaced in a recent audit of some 50,000 public monuments across the country that criticized our nation's statuary for being primarily male and white and centered on commemorating "war and conquest."
It's probably not news to most readers of this blog that Lincoln is the most written about American, with an estimated 20,000 books published about him -- a figure that rises every year, mainly because Lincoln books sell.
And the dogged Dave Wiegers, a northern Illinois photographer and friend of the Lincoln Group, has spent years traveling the U.S. and many other countries shooting and cataloging every Lincoln statue and other monument he can find. Dave and Lincoln Group board member Scott Schroeder have created a nifty interactive Google map at https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=1BmUZfnmpyh_4p2Xxgqi5t3sQtNFCSZD4&usp=sharing that shows all of Dave's work.
The Post's new data analysis reporter Andrew Van Dam listed the top figures honored with monuments, according to the National Monument Audit. His item about monuments is part of a longer story available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2022/07/15/diversity-statues-highways/
Lincoln was first at 193, followed by George Washington at 171, Christopher Columbus 149, Martin Luther King Jr. at 86, St. Francis of Assisi at 73, Robert E. Lee at 59, Casimir Pulaski at 51, Benjamin Franklin 48 and John F. Kennedy at 44. Thomas Jefferson rounds at the top 10 at 36.
Van Dam then analyzed the audit's data to come up with the geographic distribution of Lincoln monuments and statues. Not surprising, they are clustered in the Midwest and northeast, with not one in the Deep South:
The monument audit was a yearlong project done by the non-profit Monument Lab with support from the deep-pocketed Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that came up with a catalog of 50,000 monuments that it created using figures from smaller databases.
The audit's report at https://monumentlab.com/audit reflects a lot of the controversy that has swirled around the nation's historical monuments in recent years. Its No. 1 finding, "monuments have always changed," tells us that each generation views existing monuments in a new light, so it shouldn't be surprising that Confederate memorials are disappearing and that even some Lincoln statuary comes in for criticism.
Our nation's monuments are mostly white and male, although Dr. King's climb into fourth place since his assassination in 1968 shows that change can happen. Monuments reflect war and conquest, the audit report said, and finally it added that "the story of the United States as told by our current monuments misrepresents our history."
Lincoln, of course, has not been immune to the current battles over statues. A 2,800-pound Lincoln statue in Boston, a twin to the Emancipation Memorial in Washington D.C.'s Lincoln Park was removed in December 2020 after protests that the statue was degrading to Archer Alexander, the shackled ex-slave depicted at Lincoln's feet.
The D.C. version of the statue has also attracted protest and the National Park Service is doing a round of consultations while it formulates a plan for what to do with the monument.
But even as these battles rage, the number of Lincoln monuments continues to rise, showing that he remains a popular, inspirational figure to many Americans. The town of Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, unveiled a Lincoln statue in July 2021. The African-American Civil War Memorial and Museum in Washington has commissioned a statue of a seated Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation for its new museum building and a life-size Lincoln statue will be unveiled in September, along with one of Frederick Douglass, this September
in Washington's Congressional Cemetery, near the grave site of Civil War photographer Matthew Brady.