This life-size statue is the oldest extant memorial to Abraham Lincoln in the nation. It was not, however, the first built. A plaster statue of Lincoln had been erected in San Francisco in 1866 which, when it eroded, was replaced with a metal one, which was destroyed in the fire of 1906. Hence, the marble statue of Lincoln that sits in front of what was then City Hall (built in 1820), is the oldest in existence today.

A group of the capital’s business and civic leaders came together on April 28, 1865, just thirteen days after the President’s death, to establish a committee to erect a public memorial to Abraham Lincoln by popular subscription. Most donations were small and came from local men and women. The largest came from a former resident, John T. Ford, who had sold his theatre in Washington to the government and moved to Baltimore, where he operated another theatre.

Several designs were considered but the model submitted by Lot Flannery was declared to be the “most spirited” and “an excellent likeness” and Flannery was awarded the commission. Lot Flannery and his brother, both Irish immigrants, owned one of the largest stonecarving businesses in the city, specializing in tombstones. In June, 1865, his touching sculpture for Congressional Cemetery of a neoclassical woman grieving over the graves of the victims of the Arsenal disaster had won him friends within the city, where leaders were anxious to give the Lincoln statue commission to a local artist.

The statue, unveiled on April 15, 1865, exactly 3 years after Lincoln’s death, looked down on the people from atop a marble column over 30 feet high, causing consternation among local critics, who complained that they could barely make out who was up there. In fact, the features of the sculpture are sharply carved, making Lincoln unmistakable, even at a distance. He stands as if ready to speak, gesturing as if ready to speak, his left hand resting on a Roman fasces, a symbol of union.

When City Hall underwent renovation in 1919, the statue was crated up and put in storage. There was much discussion and argument about returning it to this site but eventually, the statue was returned to the original location on April 15, 1923; this time, however, on a simple low granite pedestal. Within easy reach, now, the statue fell prey to vandals who repeatedly broke off Lincoln’s fingers. Eventually his entire right hand was recarved but on a scale that was too large. The statue remains in this condition today.