Title: Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight: Discovering a Statue

Author: Christy Gill, NBCT

Big Ideas: Investigate how art represents history.

Essential Question: Why does a nine foot bronze cast sculpture of President Abraham Lincoln stand outside of the West Virginia State Capitol building? Does poetry influence artists? How does sculpture tell a story?



Social Studies


SS.5.WV.4 sequence the events that led to the formation of the state of West Virginia (e.g., timeline)


SS.5.WV.5 identify and explain the significance of historical experiences and of geographical, social and economic factors that have helped to shape both West Virginia’s and America’s society.


SS.5.WV.6 analyze the moral, ethical and legal tensions that led to the creation of the new state of West Virginia and how those tensions were resolved.


Visual Arts


VA.O.5.4.01 identify the characteristics of artworks and artists from different periods of time, style and cultures.


VA.O.5.4.02 describe and place artifacts, artworks, and/or artists on a historical and/or cultural timeline.


VA.O.5.4.03 describe how time and place influence meaning and cultural value in a work of art.

Learning Plan

During social studies/history time or in cooperation with the social studies/history teacher, students must have developed the content background knowledge of the role President Lincoln played in the statehood of West Virginia. Special attention should be addressed to the events leading up to Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Statehood Bill granting approval to western Virginians to seek admission to the Union on December 31, 1862.


In small groups (3-5), students will either walk through the West Virginia State Museum together or look What imagery or words come to mind as you read, examine or look at these items?


Three art projects are presented. The first, two dimensional, is best suited to be carried out by a classroom teacher. The second is more suited to a teacher comfortable with creating three-dimensional art.

Art Project 1

To begin this lesson, the teacher will divide the class into several groups to define the following words: portentous, mourning, quaint, peasants, dreadnaught, and travail which are found in the poem they are about to hear. The students will report back t the class the definitions of the words. A brief background of the relationship Lincoln has to our statehood and the current events happening while he served as president will be reviewed. Students will know that the poem is written about a time after Lincoln’s death and coinciding with the inception of World War I. Ask the students to discuss how he must be feeling. Tell them you are goni9g to read a poem that is about Lincoln and that when it is over they will draw Lincoln as they picture him in their mind. Explain to them they will see the actual sculpture made by West Virginia artist, Fred Martin Torrey, who was born in Fairmont, West Virginia. The original statue, now in the West Virginia State Museum, is 42” tall. It was originally presented at New York World’s Fair in 1939. Pennies raised by the children of West Virginal paid for the statue to be cast in bronze and stands nine feet tall. The statue was cast after Fred Torrey’s death in 1974 by Charleston, West Virginia artist, Bernie Wiepper, and is located in front of our State Capitol.


Read the poem Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight. Give each student a 4 ½” by 12” sheet of black construction paper and a white colored pencil. Point out Lincoln has a on a shawl or overcoat in the poem and probably a concerned face. Allow them to draw. When students have completed their drawings, read the poem again so they may add details to their drawings. Some questions to follow up with are:

1. Do leaders have concerns for the people they serve?

2. What is the expression on the face of the sculpture?

3. Why doesn’t the sculpture figure have a hate on since the poem mentions his hat?

Students will view the bronze statue Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight. The students will discuss the similarities and differences in their drawing and the sculpture by Torrey. The teacher will present the photo of the larger statue that is in front of the capitol. Students will learn about the events leading up to the dedication of the large statue with a timeline.

Art Project 2

This art lesson is for students to recreate the sculpture with self hardening clay, ceramic clay, or paper mache. Each student should make a ball using self hardening clay and form a face that depicts worry or deep concern. A wire armature can be formed for the body and a cloth soaked in a mixture of glue and water can be draped over the armature to represent Lincoln’s “shawl.” For ceramic clay, no armature can be used.

Art Project 3

Newspaper articles are part of this lesson packet. Students will be interested to learn that it was school children from Wyoming County who raised $1,030.00 for the project. It was said they raised pennies since it is Lincoln’s picture that is shown on the coin. In this arts related project, students will design their own coin on a round template.


Students will each be given a penny with Lincoln’s image. The class will discuss all the parts of the coin. They will create their coin modeled after the penny. Students will be given the task of identifying an important person and draw a profile of that person, select a value for a coin, a slogan and a date of issue. The front of the coin or both sides can be designed by the students. The profiles can be limited to prominent figures in West Virginia history, their community, or other criteria.

Links & Other Resources

Discussion Guide




Historical Marker




e-WV Article


U.S. Mint


Picture books


Additional information: When the students visit the West Virginia State Museum, they will see a small version of the statue Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight. The larger version can be seen on the river side of the Capitol.

Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight

By Vachel Lindsay


It is portentous, and a thing of state That here at midnight, in our little town A mourning figure walks, and will not rest, Near the old court-house pacing up and down.


Or by his homestead, or in shadowed yards He lingers where his children used to play, Or through the market, on the well-worn stones He stalks until the dawn-stars burn away.


A bronzed, lank man! His suit of ancient black, A famous high top-hat and plain worn shawl Make him the quaint great figure that men love, The prairie-lawyer, master of us all.


He cannot sleep upon his hillside now. He is among us:—as in times before! And we who toss and lie awake for long Breathe deep, and start, to see him pass the door.


His head is bowed. He thinks on men and kings. Yea, when the sick world cries, how can he sleep? Too many peasants fight, they know not why, Too many homesteads in black terror weep.


The sins of all the war-lords burn his heart. He sees the dreadnaughts scouring every main. He carries on his shawl-wrapped shoulders now The bitterness, the folly and the pain.


He cannot rest until a spirit-dawn Shall come;—the shining hope of Europe free; The league of sober folk, the Workers' Earth, Bringing long peace to Cornland, Alp and Sea.


It breaks his heart that kings must murder still, That all his hours of travail here for men Seem yet in vain. And who will bring white peace That he may sleep upon his hill again?

From the collections of the West Virginia State Museum

Students were involved in the process of brining the statue to the capitol as the newspaper states. Other citizens were also involved in collecting funds.


Newspaper: West Virginia State Archives