The most vivid memory I have of visiting Washington, D.C. for the first time when I was a kid is of the Lincoln Memorial.
I was already a Lincoln fan. The little biography about him in my school library was my favorite. Lincoln was my heroic ideal.
But the Lincoln Memorial was the grandest building I had ever seen. The drama of walking up those steps and seeing that statue sitting there was thrilling.
I read and reread the inscription above the statue, and those words got locked into my memory. I could always quote it:
IN THIS TEMPLE
AS IN THE HEARTS OF THE PEOPLE
FOR WHOM HE SAVED THE UNION
THE MEMORY OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN
IS ENSHRINED FOREVER.
Balanced. Powerful. Perfect.
I had a framed photograph my dad took of the statue and inscription hanging in my room for years.
But I didn’t know there was a story about the person who wrote that inscription, his commitment to Lincoln, and his fight to get the words included in the monument.
I loved this account of Royal Cortissoz’s epiphany for the epitaph and his commitment to honoring Lincoln and ferociously defending his own artistic vision. He wouldn’t yield to well-meaning attempts at the highest level to edit the inscription. He knew those changes would weaken the beauty and symmetry of his words.
His vision ended up prevailing and being etched into that stone and into the memories of generations who summit those steps.
I’m heading to D.C. next week with my family, and I’m eager to take my daughters up those steps to read those words for themselves. Thank you, Mr. Cortissoz for helping us thank Mr. Lincoln.