U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, looking ahead to the celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday in February 2009, questioned ugly chain-link fencing that was placed at the Lincoln Memorial shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks – and now the fencing is gone.
Kempthorne said the fencing is not fitting for the atmosphere of the national monument.
“I recently just took a walk around there and asked a few questions about certain measures that had been put in place after 9/11,” Kempthorne said.
“And if, in fact, those temporary measures are permanent, what are we doing so that it’s attractive?”
Bill Line, spokesman for the National Park Service in Washington, D.C., said Friday the fencing was removed about 10 days ago.
The fencing had blocked public access to the colonnade around the perimeter of the monument, where prior to 2001 tourists could walk among the columns bearing the names of the 50 states.
The fence went up to protect the memorial at the recommendation of the U.S. Park Police, Line said. “We clearly believe now that there is a different security system in place that obviates or relieves the need to have the chain-link there,” he said.
As governor of Idaho, Kempthorne barricaded the state Capitol after the 2001 attacks, blocking vehicle access to the building at first with concrete Jersey barriers. Those soon were replaced with decorative planters, in a style complementing the historic sandstone Capitol building, and planted with bright seasonal flowers.
Kempthorne spoke by phone from his office, where he was looking at the Lincoln Memorial from his window. A history buff and Lincoln fan, Kempthorne said he often visits the memorial. “I believe there is a reverence as you enter. … It is as spectacular at night as it is during the day,” he said.
As the nation looks ahead to the bicentennial, Kempthorne said it’s a good time for “fresh eyes and fresh ideas” to keep the monument accessible.
Officials are considering creating broadcasts visitors could access on iPods or cell phones to hear the Gettysburg Address, historians’ interpretations of Lincoln’s life and architects’ descriptions of features of the monument.
The memorial is open until midnight, and Kempthorne said he’s gone there late and found college students sitting on the steps.
“It’s kind of interesting to strike up a conversation,” he said. “In that setting, they’re talking in voices that are just a little more hushed than you’d have at a football stadium.”
As secretary of the Interior, Kempthorne oversees the National Park Service, whose 390 parks include Lincoln’s birthplace in Kentucky and boyhood home in Indiana, his home in Springfield, Ill., the Lincoln Memorial, and Ford’s Theater, where Lincoln was assassinated.