The statuettes inside the Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site were supposed to be urns. And the Gutzon Borglum bust just outside the tomb – the one people rub the nose of – was supposed to be indoors.
The interior of the tomb contains nine statuettes of Abraham Lincoln. All nine, along with the Borglum bust, were added to the tomb’s decoration when the memorial was completely revamped in 1930-31.
Nancy Hill spelled out the reasons for the reconstruction project in the Winter 2006 edition of the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association.
The sad condition of the Lincoln Tomb was made clear in a March 1929 report instigated by Governor Louis Emmerson and made by the Division of Architecture and Engineering of the Illinois Department of Public Works. Water had done a great deal of damage to the masonry, rusting the anchors that held stones in place, washing out joints, and staining the stone. Many of the stones had been “frozen out” as the water expanded in winter. The iron stairs inside the obelisk were also rusted, and the door to the shaft hung loosely by one hinge. The promenade deck, or terrace, was in bad condition, allowing water to leak into the rooms below, threatening the foundation. The burial chamber showed evidence of the leaks from above it, with streaks of dirt and water marks on the marble walls. The electrical wiring was found to be dangerous; in one area, current flowed through “lamp cord suspended from nails.” The statuary was patched and in need of permanent repairs. The public outhouses that were still in use were unsanitary, “unsightly,” and “inexcusable,” said the report.
The second reconstruction began in the spring of 1930. As the granite facing of the obelisk was removed, it was discovered that the brick behind it had seriously deteriorated. Plans were immediately changed, and the entire monument was dismantled and rebuilt. It was also soon discovered that as originally built, the tomb was “out of square,” with “many inaccuracies” in its construction. It was no wonder that there had been so much water damage and deterioration.
State officials took advantage of the rebuilding project to redesign the tomb in general. C. Herrick Hammond (1882-1969) of Chicago, the state’s supervising architect, explained the idea in an Illinois State Journal article in June 1932.
(A)fter a careful study of the plan and interior arrangement, it was decided to suggest a change, an improvement that would allow visitors to see the sarcophagus chamber without going out of doors, as has been necessary up to the time of remodeling. …
An inspection clearly showed the feasibility of securing a passage around the four sides of the unused portion of the tomb, and also the possibility of enlarging the sarcophagus chamber, by relocating the vaults in which Mrs. Lincoln and the children were interred.
Designers installed two niches in each corner of the interior corridor.
“It was the original intention to place in these niches marble urns,” Hammond wrote, “but this idea was changed because of a suggestion made by Joseph F. Booton (1897-1983 – ed.) of the supervising architect’s office, who suggested that in the place of the urns, statuettes be set showing different period of Lincoln’s life.”
Hammond solicited works from Leonard Crunelle, Fred M. Torrey and Lorado Taft, sculptors who all had Illinois connections. Taft, in turn, sought statuettes from other prominent sculptors of Lincoln works: Daniel Chester French, Adolph Weinman and the widow of Augustus St. Gaudens. At a banquet in Chicago, Hammond himself asked Borglum to give the tomb a bronze copy of a marble bust Borglum had created in 1908.
“The responses from these inquiries were thrilling,” Hammond later told a reporter.
In each case we were promised replicas that would be approximately three feet in height. We were particularly pleased to be advised by Mr. French that we could have a bronze casting of the original model from which the statue in the Lincoln Memorial at Washington was made.
Tomb planners originally slated Borglum’s bust for the rotunda, the entrance chamber of the tomb. But it didn’t work there, partly because the bust is larger than the other statuettes and partly because of its design. In the original, Lincoln’s head seems to be growing out of a solid block of marble. As a result, Hammond wrote:
When the head arrived, it was necessary for us to make a change in our original scheme. It was to be placed in the new terrace prepared in front of the tomb on a granite pedestal. However, inasmuch as the casting received was open in the back, giving it the appearance of a death mask, a granite piece had to be designed to fit into the opening and form a background for the head. All of this work was done by the stone cutters at the monument.
French’s seated Lincoln replaced Borglum’s bust in the rotunda. But that meant the tomb needed another statuette for the corridor. Torrey, already assigned to sculpt a statuette of a young Lincoln on a horse, “Lincoln the Ranger,” was commissioned to fashion a second equestrian statue, “Lincoln the Circuit Rider.”
The inside statuettes are all about three feet high and are mounted on three-foot-tall marble pedestals with identifying plaques. Metal rails keep visitors a respectable distance from the statuary.
The public got its first look at most of the new statuary in a Statehouse display in March of 1931. The Borglum bust arrived in late April. President Herbert Hoover presided over dedication ceremonies for the redesigned tomb on June 17, 1931.
Here is a look at the 1931 tomb statuary.
Rotunda: Daniel Chester French, seated Lincoln from the Lincoln Memorial.
The plaque on this statuette says “Original in Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.” In fact, this is a bronze casting of one of French’s plaster models for the larger Lincoln; arguably, the tomb’s small image, not the 19-foot-tall final version, is the “original” statue. The tomb’s casting is so precise that it includes an image of French’s signature and the date of the plaster model’s creation – March 1916. The larger Lincoln wasn’t finished until 1920; it was dedicated in 1922.
A close observer can see a couple of differences between the two versions. The biggest is the orientation of the flag on which Lincoln sits – the stars are below Lincoln’s left arm on the tomb’s statuette; in Washington, they’re beneath his right side. That’s probably related to flag etiquette, which calls for the stars to be on an observer’s left when viewed from in front. (The U.S. Flag Code, however, wasn’t formally enacted until 1923.)
French (1850-1931) was one of America’s best-known sculptors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Southeast corner: Leonard Crunelle, “Lincoln the Soldier,” and Fred M. Torrey, “Lincoln the Ranger.” Both statues relate to Lincoln’s service in the 1832 Black Hawk War. Lincoln first was elected captain of his company of volunteers. When their term of service was over, he re-enlisted as a private in a mounted “independent spy company,” also known as rangers. Crunelle (1872-1944), a former coal miner in Decatur, and Torrey (1884-1967) a West Virginia native, were proteges of Lorado Taft. Crunelle’s larger “Lincoln the Soldier” is in Dixon, Ill.; it was dedicated in 1930. “Lincoln the Ranger” was created for the tomb.
Northeast corner: Fred M. Torrey, “Lincoln the Circuit Rider,” and Augustus St. Gaudens, “Lincoln the Man.” St. Gaudens (1848-1907) was one of the most celebrated sculptors of his time. “Lincoln the Man,” the full-size version of which is in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, “has been described as the most important sculpture of Lincoln from the 19th century” (Wikipedia). Torrey’s statuettes, “Circuit Rider” and “Ranger,” hold two distinctions: they’re the only mounted Lincolns among the nine statuettes, and they’re also the only works unique to the tomb. The other seven interior sculptures have parent statues elsewhere.
Northwest corner: Leonard Crunelle, “Lincoln the Debater,” and A.A. Weinman, seated Lincoln. The large statue of “Lincoln the Debater” was erected in 1929 at Freeport, Ill., site of the second Lincoln-Douglas debate. However, the tomb’s small version is not identical to the Freeport statue. The tomb’s Lincoln looks younger and less stern, his hair is upswept into a pompadour rather than falling to cover his ears, and the tomb Lincoln is missing a watch chain present in Freeport. Adolph A. Weinman (1870-1952) studied with both Augustus St. Gaudens and Daniel Chester French. His seated Lincoln was commissioned for Hodgenville, Ky., a few miles from Lincoln’s birthplace, for the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth in 1909.
Southwest corner: Daniel Chester French, standing Lincoln, and Lorado Taft, “Lincoln the Lawyer.” French’s standing Lincoln was erected on the ground of the Nebraska Capitol in Lincoln, Neb., In 1909. “Lincoln the Lawyer,” across from Urbana High School in Urbana, Ill., was dedicated in 1927. Taft (1860-1936) was a native of Champaign, Ill., next door to Urbana, and lived there much of his life.
Tomb plaza: Gutzon Borglum, Lincoln bust. Borglum (1867-1941) is best known for his gigantic Mount Rushmore carvings of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Lincoln. The marble original from which the tomb’s bronze version was cast is in the crypt of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Borglum carved the bust in 1908; it was on display in the Capitol rotunda from 1911 until 1979.
Rubbing the nose
It’s a good bet that some of the very first visitors after the 1931 renovation of the Lincoln Tomb rubbed the nose of the Borglum bust of Lincoln. No one knows for sure, although Springfield folklore claims the tradition began when soldiers leaving for World War II rubbed the nose for good luck. At any rate, rubbing the nose has been a natural, tactile element of visits to the tomb by millions of Lincoln tourists.
One of the effects of the worldwide COVID-19 epidemic, however, may be the disappearance of the nose tradition. At some point during the pandemic, state officials posted a sign on the tomb plaza that said, “In accordance with current health directives, VISITORS SHOULD NOT TOUCH THE STATUARY, including the bronze bust of Mr. Lincoln near the tomb entrance. Thank you.” (Capitalization in original.)
The sign was still there in July 2022, although by then health officials recognized that COVID-19 is primarily transmitted by inhaling the virus, not by touching a contaminated surface.
Discouraging rubs, however, does protect the nose of the bust, something tomb administrators had been trying to do for years. All those hands touching the nose over the decades have left the nose of Borglum’s bronze shiny and thin – there’s even a discreet patch on the left side of Lincoln’s nose, where righthanded tourists would naturally rub.
State officials took their most direct action against nose-rubbers in 1970, raising the height of the bust’s pedestal by a foot-and-a-half, leaving the nose about eight feet off the ground. That created a furor – the legislature even passed a resolution calling on the Department of Conservation, which oversaw the tomb, to bring the bust back to rubbing level. The state did so in 1976.
State Journal-Register columnist Toby McDaniel wrote an item about the controversy after the nose came back to earth. It concluded:
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