WASHINGTON — I really should be starting my Lincoln Highway adventure at Times Square in New York City, the highway’s true eastern terminus. But I live in the nation’s capital, so starting on one of the highway’s auxiliary routes is more sensible. (I’ll be detailing some of the route in New York and New Jersey after I join up with the mainline of the highway up in Pennsylvania.)
And in any regard, starting at the Lincoln Memorial makes sense. It’s an important spot.
The national monument to the Great Emancipator, sitting at the western end of the great east-west axis that includes the Washington Monument, U.S. Capitol and the National Mall, is probably the most well-known representation of Lincoln anywhere.
I’ve been to the Lincoln Memorial countless times and it’s among my favorite monuments in the nation’s capital. A lot of locals like to enjoy the monuments at night when there are fewer tourists — Richard Nixon once made a bizarre impromptu pre-dawn visit to the Lincoln Memorial in what’s called the “weirdest day” of his presidency — but I think it’s fascinating to go when it’s packed with people.
Why? Am I a glutton for punishment? No. When it’s crowded with visitors, you get to witness something that’s similar to a religious pilgrimage. The great Doric temple, designed by Henry Bacon and completed in 1922, is accessed by a grand and somewhat imposing staircase. It’s certainly not like the climb up to the Acropolis in Athens — which I did back on a sweltering summer day in 1996 during a high school Latin Club trip to Greece — but the experience is similarly humbling. You feel tiny in comparison to your surroundings, especially when you turn around to see the grand expanse of the great public space stretching beyond the Washington Monument to the east.