A generous donation will help restore the Lincoln Memorial and add exhibit space.
Yesterday, in an exceptionally appropriate celebration of Presidents Day, the National Park Service announced it has received an $18.5 million gift to protect the Lincoln Memorial and expand its educational offerings. The donation—which comes from businessman and philanthropist David M. Rubenstein—will provide much-needed repairs for the building’s structures, expand its cramped exhibit space, and open a window on the origins of the Lincoln Memorial as an anchor to American ideals on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
“These improvements will hopefully enable more people to better understand and appreciate Abraham Lincoln’s remarkable leadership during one of the most trying periods in American history,” Rubenstein said in a statement.
According to the National Park Service, this $18.5 million donation will allow it to repair the Lincoln Memorial’s damaged brick and marble work, as well as conserve the symbolism-laden Jules Guérin murals that reside above the inscriptions of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural Address on either side of the Memorial. (Above the Gettysburg Address, for example, Guérin painted the Angel of Truth freeing slaves.) The Park Service will also add another elevator to the building to improve accessibility.
Beyond that, this donation will expand the Lincoln Memorial’s exhibit space—which the Washington Post notes is currently a mere 750 square feet—to 15,000 square feet. A press release also hints at a “special project” that “will provide future visitors with a glimpse of the memorial’s foundational pillars, which anchor the memorial to the bedrock, and of the graffiti of the workers who built the monument in the early twentieth century.”
Rubenstein donated the sum as part of the public launch of the National Park Foundation’s Centennial Campaign for America’s National Parks, which aims to raise $350 million by September 2018. This is Rubenstein’s fourth major donation to the National Park Service; one of these past donations included $7.5 million to restore the Washington Monument after it was damaged in an earthquake in 2011.
National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis pointed out in a press release that there’s perhaps no better place to recognize the full breadth of American history than the Lincoln Memorial, which was also such an iconic landmark of the Civil Rights Movement that its steps bear a plaque on the spot from which Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his I Have a Dream speech. “We are honored that David Rubenstein’s generous gift and patriotism will help the National Park Service tell the diverse stories of America’s past and demonstrate their continued importance to our nation,” Jarvis said.
While the Lincoln Memorial’s importance to American history does indeed go beyond the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln himself, the timing for this donation was especially fitting. This year, Presidents Day, which evolved over the years to honor all American presidents past and present, landed three days after the February 12 birthday of America’s 16th president: Abraham Lincoln.