200 Years of Illinois: Henry Bacon, and that’s no baloney

lincoln memorialReverent. Classical. (Well, neoclassical.) Uncontroversial in design, though the subject has a few fringe detractors. The Lincoln Memorial began to take shape in 1915. By then, architects and others had pitched a number of, shall we say, novel ideas about the memorial, and I think we all can get a little wistful thinking of what might have been had a ziggurat arisen on the site.

Instead, a man born on November 28, 1866 in Watseka created the iconic Memorial we visit today. Henry Bacon spent a year at the University of Illinois before catching on with the famous New York architecture firm of McKim, Mead & White, the designers of the original Penn Station in Manhattan as well as Columbia University’s campus.

Like many architects of the time, Bacon often worked in the Beaux-Arts style and he shared the widespread American admiration for the ancient Greeks. Bacon drew on the Parthenon for inspiration with the Lincoln Memorial. By using granite, limestone, and several kinds of marble, he incorporated stone from across the United States to symbolize Lincoln’s dedication to the Union. His design won Bacon the Gold Medal of the American Institute of Architects. While the Memorial remained his most famous work, Bacon enjoyed a lengthy career designing not only monuments and other buildings, but houses, in particular in and around Wilmington, North Carolina.