The Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C is one of the most instantly recognizable statues in the United States. The mammoth monument to our nation’s sixteenth president stands nineteen feet tall and overlooks the reflecting pool of the Washington Monument. People from all over the world visit there each day to pay tribute to the President who lead this nation during the American Civil War and saved the union, but what most people do not know is a little legend associated with the statue.
The legend has been around for decades, ever since someone glanced at the back of Lincoln’s head from a certain side angle and noticed it. What they saw back then is what a lot of people see now, and that is what appears to be the face of Confederate General Robert E. Lee protruding outward, facing the back wall.
It could be an illusion or how the lights reflects off of the marble, but there definitely does seem to be something going on there. The “shape” seems to have a nose, forehead, cheeks, beard, closed eyes, and a mouth, and the lock of Lincoln’s hair that forms the nose is not replicated anywhere else on the back of his head—it would be odd for such skilled sculptors to just leave some hair sticking out of the back of the president’s head like that.
But why would somebody do this? The supervisor of the project was a northerner, Daniel French, and the group of Italian brothers who actually did the sculpting, Ferruccio, Attilio, Furio, Masaniello, Orazio, and Getulio Piccirilli were from New York, after their parents had immigrated from Tuscany decades prior.
Perhaps, with the Civil War a little more than fifty years old at the time the monument was being built, the artists wanted to honor the leaders of both sides, but could not flat-out build a monument to the beloved rebel leader, so they chose an inconspicuous spot to pay homage. Something else that is intriguing, is directly behind the monument, across the Potomac River, in the direction Lee’s face is pointing, lies Arlington Cemetery, which was Lee’s home before the Civil War broke out. As punishment and a way to embarrass him, the United States Army took possession of his property made a cemetery out of it during the war. The solemn look on his face could be there for that disgraceful reason. We will never know if that was the designer’s intention, and for now, the National Park Service does not support the idea and regards it merely as an “urban legend”.