New Light Shines on Lincoln’s Tomb
A recent renovation of Abraham Lincoln’s final resting place adds LED lighting and a new level of dignified illumination
Leaving Washington, D.C., on April 21, 1865, the train carrying the coffin of President Abraham Lincoln embarked on a mournful, winding journey through 180 cities in seven states, ultimately arriving in Springfield, Illinois, Lincoln’s hometown. On May 4, Lincoln’s body was placed in a receiving vault at Oak Ridge Cemetery, and later that year moved to a temporary vault. The 16th president was laid to rest in his permanent tomb at Oak Ridge in 1874. The tomb also serves as a final resting place for Lincoln’s wife Mary and three of their sons: Edward, William and Thomas. Robert, the oldest son, is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
LED Lighting Upgrade Completes in April 2014
Over the years, the structure at the Lincoln Tomb and War Memorials Historic Site, including an entrance rotunda, burial chamber and corridors as well as a monument rising 117 feet from ground level, has undergone renovations and major upgrades. The most recent work wrapped up in April 2014, in time for the heavy spring student-touring season.
Prior to this most recent project, lighting inside the tomb did not provide the dignified level of illumination required, and didn’t blend well with wall and ceiling finishes. Some lighting either was not functioning or was woefully out of date when it did work. In fact, some of the interior lighting dated from the early 1970s.
The overall project to repair and restore finishes in the tomb interior and add LED lighting to address illumination concerns was spearheaded by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, with lead architect RATIO Architects of Champaign, Illinois, and EverGreene Architectural Arts of Oak Park, Illinois, as material conservators. BRiC Partnership LLC, Belleville, Illinois, served as consulting engineer – which included lighting – and B & B Electric, of Springfield, Illinois, performed the fixture installation.
For this project, Acclaim Lighting, Los Angeles, California, provided LED lighting, namely 154 1-foot DynaCove Interior SO fixtures, featuring 120-degree beam angles and 3,000 K color temperatures. The fixtures, dimmed to 15 percent to maintain a well-lit but dignified tone, are arranged in continuous rings to provide indirect light from curved coves in the tomb’s south-entrance entry rotunda and burial chamber. Sections of the continuous LED fixtures are circuited to provide emergency lighting. Acclaim’s fixtures replace decades-old 4-foot fluorescent units in the entry rotunda and non-functioning yellow neon tubes in the burial chamber.
Fluorescent-Tube Lighting Needed to Go
The existing lighting layout as well as tomb interior architecture and ceiling finishes provided significant challenges for the upgrade, according to BRiC Partnership’s Jeff Nolte, project electrical designer.
“The palladium ceiling finish of the entry rotunda had been indirectly lit with 4-foot cool-white fluorescent strip fixtures in a continuous curved cove, so the cool white temperature on the silver ceiling gave a steel, cold feeling in there” he says. “The new LEDs would have to be bounced off of that silver matte finish and we didn’t know how color temperature would be affected.”
For this reason, notes Nolte, white ceilings often are used to bounce lighting. Adding to the challenge, the old fixtures could not be removed until the start of project, eliminating the possibility of doing a pre-construction mock up in that space with the new lighting. This also held true in the burial chamber, with its gold-leaf ceiling finish and existing yellow neon florescent tubes mounted in a continuous cove. The chamber’s ceiling had not been lit for years because the tubes had been out of service, according to Nolte.
Previous programming has stipulated the use of LEDs for lighting the entry rotunda and burial chamber. During the two years of planning for this project owing to budget issues and normal project reviews, LED technology had progressed rapidly, according to Nolte. As required with state projects, the project team had to solicit bids from multiple manufacturers for the required LED linear product with dimming capabilities to maintain a level of somber respect in the burial chamber. Lighting Associates of St. Louis brought Acclaim’s DynaCove product, featuring the latest LED technology, to the team’s attention, and it was added to the scheduled fixtures list via addendum.
Ceiling Coves Proved Challenging
Once the actual renovation began, in a tight four-month timeframe, new challenges surfaced. As mentioned, engineers, designers and installers could not mock up the space prior to the commencement of work.
“When site work began, we removed the old fixtures and eyelined those fixtures at the front of the coves,” recalls Nolte. “The entry rotunda and burial chamber each have different cove profiles, so we had to customize fixture locations for each cove. Due to the deeper cove profile in the burial chamber, we found that the fixtures do not reflect as much light onto the gold-leaf ceiling finish as we needed. The shallow cove in the entry rotunda presented the opposite problem, as individual pixels showed on the silver ceiling.”
To correct these situations, fixtures in the burial chamber were moved to the back of the cove while remaining hidden in the cove, thus providing the needed added reflection. In the entry rotunda, the fixtures were pushed back farther into the cove and angled to reflect light off of the cove and then onto the ceiling – indirecting the indirect, as Nolte puts it, and removing the projection of individual pixels on the ceiling. These alterations necessitated the use of 19 additional fixtures to bring the project count to 154 DynaCove Interior SOs. Because the fixtures were readily available, this addition did not adversely impact the project schedule. To round out installation, the lights were set to optimal dimming percentages.
Another portion of the work, new Halo track lighting highlights replicas of existing Lincoln statues in addition to mounted excerpts from the Gettysburg Address as well as Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address and his speech bidding farewell to Springfield.
History Again on Display
Following the April 1, 2014, ribbon-cutting, crowds have once again returned to the Lincoln tomb – the site averages 350,000 visitors per year, making Oak Ridge the second-most-visited cemetery in the United States after Arlington National Cemetery – and reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, according to Nolte.
“The lighting provides the right balance of illumination to highlight tomb details,” he concludes, “while maintaining the dignity and respect required in the hallowed space.”