Abraham Lincoln Wax Statue Melts From Extreme Heat in Washington, D.C.

If you’re in the U.S., you’re either just coming out of or in the middle of a heat wave. Our increasingly hot summers can be devastating for our health, but at least we’re not made of wax. This past week, a Washington, D.C. sculpture of the nation’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, became another casualty of global warming.

In fact, poor Abe has suffered quite a bit this past year. The 6-foot-tall sculpture created by artist and University of Richmond assistant professor Sandy Williams IV has had to be taken in for reconstruction twice now.

Williams did intend for the Lincoln sculpture to melt, but only a bit. In September 2023, with over a 100 candle wicks in it, the artwork was prematurely lit by community members. The wicks were meant to be used, but only for a minute or two, and not every single one at once. Without any signage explaining the fact, passersby saw the sculpture, lit the wicks, and left without snuffing the flames out. This all happened before its official unveiling.

The sculpture was reinstalled this past February with only 10 wicks and signs making it clear to only to let flames burn briefly. The Lincoln sculpture was 3,000 pounds with a congealing point of 144°F, so it was expected to be safe for the immediate future. However, Washington, D.C.’s heat last weekend was too much for the Great Emancipator. First his head started leaning back, and social media users joked that maybe Honest Abe was having trouble coping with the current state of American politics. Then, one of his legs turned into a blob.

“I previously had joked that when our climate gets bad enough to where we are living in an environment where the ambient heat melts these sculptures, that’s when this work becomes an environmental artwork,” Williams admits. “I didn’t know that was going to be this summer.”

While the piece forebodingly became a commentary on climate change earlier than expected, the statue was always meant to be political. It was installed outside of Garrison Elementary School as part of Williams’ Wax Monument Series. Entitled 40 Acres: Camp Barker the piece commemorates the spot of a Civil War era refugee camp for formerly enslaved African Americans. Williams wanted to bring attention to the history of formerly enslaved folks during and after the Civil War, as the historical canon tends to skip this essential information.

In a phone call with Intelligencer‘s Matt Stieb, Williams stated, “I have no qualms with wherever people take it. I think that is what public artwork is about. That’s what I think [I] love most about public art. The thing that makes me most uncomfortable and the thing I love the most is that I never know what’s going to happen and it’s totally outside of my control.” It seems as though they can appreciate the memes that melting Abe has inspired.

The wax monument should be back on display, good as new, this week. However, they might want to invest in getting him an air conditioner.

Artist Sandy Williams IV created a wax statue of President Abraham Lincoln, which was installed outside of Garrison Elementary School in Washington, D.C.


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A post shared by Sandy Williams IV (@sandywilliams_iv)

Unfortunately, the 6-foot-tall sculpture began to rapidly melt during a heatwave.

Though it was created with the intention of melting, the rising temperatures in D.C. expedited expectations.

Needless to say, the “headless Lincoln” melting statue made national headlines…

…and gained some funny reactions.

Sandy Williams IV: Website | Instagram
h/t: [BBC News]

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Elizabeth Beiser

Elizabeth Beiser is a Contributing Writer and Project Coordinator at My Modern Met. She has a background in American Cultural History with a special focus on Modern art and democratic community building. She received her B.A. in history, with a minor in Studio Arts, and her M.A. in history from the University of Rochester. She has worked on multiple political campaigns, as well as in non-profit operations and direct service. When she’s not writing, she’s experimenting with all varieties of arts and crafts. She also enjoys spending time with four-legged friends and exploring her hometown of Boston.
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