Lincolns’ Lucky Nose

At the tomb of Abraham Lincoln, there is a large bronze bust created by Borglum, the sculptor who designed and created Mt. Rushmore. This bust serves as a way to remember not only what Lincoln has done, but who he was. It makes visitors acknowledge that the tomb is not just a symbol, but a burial site of a man.

The bronze bust of Lincoln is a copy of a bust that Borglum created for the U.S. Capital building in 1908, 19 years before Mount Rushmore. It was carved directly from a block of marble, based on the 1860 life mask of Lincoln and on portraits painted of him. Borglum stated that his goal was to create a likeness of Lincolns’ character, and thus the carving is not perfectly accurate. The left side is more impressionistic, with a barely defined ear, while the right is more detailed. Despite these differences, which Borglum claimed portrayed his spirit and intellect respectively, the statue is remarkable accurate. Robert Lincoln, Abraham Lincolns’ son, said  “I think it is the most extraordinarily good portrait of my father I have ever seen, and it impressed me deeply as a work of art which speaks for itself in the most wonderful manner” [2]. Borglum used the remembered character of Lincoln to create a very memorable statue.

The statue itself is not a unique site of memory. There are 7 copies of this statue through the country, including in the crypt of the Capital Building and at University of California, Berkeley, However, it isn’t solely the image that gives the statue such a prominent place in the memory of anyone who visits Lincolns’ tomb. There’s a memory practice associated with the bust, one that has given the statue the nickname “Lincolns’ Lucky Nose”.


Over 20,000 visitors a year come to Lincolns’ tomb, and many rub the nose of ‘Honest Abe’s’ bronze face [1]. This may seem odd, but rubbing a persons’ nose has been considered lucky in vernacular memory for hundreds of years. The visitors hope that by rubbing Lincolns’ nose, they too could have the luck that he had.

The idea that Lincoln was very lucky is a partial memory. This idea comes from the fact that he helped end the Civil War, or War of Northern aggression if you’re from certain parts of the South. His life beyond that, however, was fairly unlucky. His son Willie died at a young age when he was in office [3], the nation was at war, and he was assassinated. The idea that Lincoln is lucky comes from a Northern perspective since he ended a war and preserved the Union. John Wilkes Booth shot and killed Lincoln because he did not want the nation to be united, and Lincolns’ death would not be considered lucky. By rubbing the statues nose for lucky, it shows how universal the good aspects of his memory have become, and how people do not necessarily remember the tragic aspects. Instead, his memory is used to create a sense of luck and thus hope for the future, Lincolns’ legacy.


  1.  Kirby, Doug, and Ken Smith. “Lincoln’s Tomb and Lucky Nose, Springfield, Illinois.” Roadside America, n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.
  2.  “Explore Capitol Hill.” Abraham Lincoln Bust. Architect of the Capital, 10 Oct. 2014. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.
  3. “Lincoln Bed.– White House Museum. The White House Museum, n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2015. 


1 thought on “Lincolns’ Lucky Nose

  1. Benjamin Sellers

    How bizarre that the sculptor decided to make his statue less accurate in order to capture Lincoln’s ‘character!’ I liked that you pointed out the vernacular origins of touching noses for luck, it certainly makes this tradition more understandable. This is an easy read, the structure flows well. I would love to see some more context; maybe link the post on Lincoln’s Tomb or give some more information on the monument. The sources are relevant and appropriate, but I think more evidence and citable background information might compliment your work. I like your conciseness and effectiveness, and I definitely think you did a good job educating about this site of memory, but I wonder if there is more that could be said about how this sculpture came about and how that played into the already existing tomb, etc.
    This is certainly a great example of material memory, an unusual way for visitors to be able to literally touch the memory they are perpetuating, you might say more about this idea. This site and your post is full of analysis about the ways we commemorate and the tools we use to do so, I really appreciated that you clearly spent a good amount of time considering the ways this plays in with our discussions from throughout this semester. Great post, great work!

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