Secrets of the Lincoln Memorial: The Undercroft

Looking up at the sculpture of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial.
Photo © Tpnuski/Dreamstime.

Many myths surround the Lincoln Memorial. Some say Abraham Lincoln is buried under the monument or entombed inside it, but this is false (Lincoln is buried in Springfield, Illinois, which was his hometown). Others think the 57 steps leading up to the statue chamber represent Lincoln’s age when he died, but in reality, he was only 56.

One question that is repeatedly asked throughout the local community, is what, if anything, lies underneath the memorial? Given that the structure was built on tidal marsh from the Potomac River that was once actually under water, it might make sense that nothing could be under it, but the rumor that something exists there is actually true.

Underneath the Lincoln Memorial is a large cavernous area with dirt floors and concrete walls. Hanging from the ceiling beneath where Lincoln sits are hundreds of stalactite formations. The stalactites are long, slender, and pale in color, and they are growing in this artificial cave as the result of water slowly dripping through the monument which started when it was built.

Other interesting features in the underbelly of the monument are cartoon drawings that were sketched on several support columns by the workers who built the monument. One of the drawings depicts characters from the old Mutt and Jeff cartoon, which started running in 1907 and was the first daily newspaper comic strip.

Cartoon line graffiti of a man sitting drawn on the wall of the Lincoln Memorial Undercroft.
Graffiti left by the construction workers who built the monument. Public domain photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

Tours of the cavernous area ceased after 9/11, but this author can vouch for its existence, since in the 1970s and ’80s, local children were treated to a tour on elementary school field trips.

Renovations of the Undercroft

In 2017, plans were made to once again allow access to the undercroft to “provide visitors with the opportunity to view the foundations that anchor the memorial to the bedrock and see the graffiti of the construction workers who built it in the early 20th century.” As of August 2022, the design process was completed for new interpretive exhibits.

Michaela Riva Gaaserud

About the Author

Michaela Riva Gaaserud is a native Virginian and longtime resident of the Washington DC area. Some of her earliest memories are of playing travel guide to visiting relatives as they went to the museums and monuments in Washington DC. Inspired by the enthusiasm she witnessed from first-timers to the city, Michaela began looking for hidden secrets to share with her audience. A particularly inspiring school field trip to the underground depths of the Lincoln Memorial sealed her love for discovering and sharing the marvels of her own backyard.

Michaela has published travel guides on various aspects of the Washington DC region, and her articles have appeared in newspapers, magazines, and international publications such as Canoe & Kayak Magazine and Paddler Magazine. She is also a founding partner at Rainmaker Publishing and an executive producer at Eddyline Media.

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