Learning from Collections: From Stone Carver to Lawyer

June 19, 2012 Posted by: Allison Dixon, Museum Technician

In 2010, the National Mall and Memorial Parks obtained new information about a set of masonry tools exhibited in the Lincoln Memorial. These tools belonged to Anthony LaManna, an Italian immigrant, who came to America through Ellis Island in 1904. From a family of stone cutters, he aspired to be an artist. During the construction of the Lincoln Memorial, 1914-1922, LaManna was hired as a stone carver to work on the lettering of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address inscribed on the southern interior wall of the chamber. His family, who originally donated LaManna's tools to National Mall and Memorial Parks, recently sent a copy of his autobiography, a short document reflecting on his life experiences.

In his autobiography, LaManna wrote about his time working at the Lincoln Memorial and how it changed the path of his life."I had no more idea of studying law than the man on the moon, until I started working in the Lincoln Memorial," LaManna wrote.

 "At that time, being interested in psychic phenomena, I was often wondering if the spirit of Lincoln was not around in the building watching me carving his Gettysburg Address on one of the panels. It is needless to say that by the time I finished I had memorized it word for word. There was a deep feeling of pride connected with the carving of that address. And that was the knowledge that my father, a stone cutter, fought under Garibaldi, the great Italian liberator, and I also a stone cutter was carving the Gettysburg Address of the great American emancipator."

Inspired by his work, and uncertain of his future as an artist, LaManna envisioned educating himself as a lawyer.

"And it was in one of these spurts of enthusiasm that with a piece of chalk, nursing an impossibility in a career as an artist, that I wrote on the wall, 'Anthony LaManna, Attorney and Counselor at Law.' Six years later, after discharge from military service, and upon completion of a post-graduate course in law, I passed the bar examination and I was admitted to practice in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, Washington, DC."

Beyond his personal story, LaManna's autobiography revealed another interesting connection. LaManna's autobiography frequently mentions his patron, "Mr. B." Mr. B. is likely Earnest Bairstow, under whom LaManna came to work on the Lincoln Memorial. Earnest Bairstow was the architectural sculptor contracted to work on the exterior carvings and much of the interior lettering. According to the oral histories from Earnest Bairstow's family, Anthony LaManna's name appears in Ernest Bairstow's address book, still in his granddaughter's possession. All of LaManna's tools on exhibit have "A LaManna" printed on them, except one which reads "E. Bairstow." Connections like these inspire us to pursue future discoveries and increase our understanding of the museum collections.

Anthony LaManna's tools are currently on exhibit in the lower level of the Lincoln Memorial. For more information about the museum collections of National Mall and Memorial Parks, visit our website at www.nps.gov/nama/historyculture/collections.htm


Lincoln Memorial, Construction, History, Biography

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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