Scorching Heat Wave Turns Lincoln Wax Statue Into a Hot Mess


As parts of the United States emerge from a searing heat wave that culminated in record-breaking temperatures this past weekend, a six-foot-tall sculpture of Abraham Lincoln has gone viral online for its ceraceous demise, generating humorous quips and memes across social media that range from the innocent to risqué.

Featuring 10 candle wicks that visitors are encouraged to light before extinguishing them after one to two minutes, the wax sculpture titled “40 ACRES: Camp Barker” (2024) was installed on February 15 outside Garrison Elementary School in Washington, DC, which is situated on the site of Camp Barker, a Civil War contraband camp where formerly enslaved people who had liberated themselves established a community.

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Users on social media were quick to poke fun at the melting wax work. (screenshot Maya Pontone/Hyperallergic via @crampedsultana on X)

Built by Richmond artist Sandy Williams IV, who also works as an assistant professor of art at the University of Richmond, the depiction of the 16th president is a 3,000-pound wax replica of the Lincoln Memorial created using a three-dimensional scan of the DC monument. Commissioned and presented by arts nonprofit CulturalDC, the sculpture is part of an ongoing series of waxen monuments that Williams has been producing since 2017. It also belongs to The 40 ACRES Archive, an expanding collection of artworks, events, performances, films, and installations focusing on Black American history that the artist established in 2021.

“The location of ‘40 ACRES: Camp Barker’ was chosen because it sits on top of a Civil War Era Freedmen community that Lincoln would often pass and visit on his commutes between the White House and [his] cottage,” Williams told Hyperallergic, adding that the work was meant to “expand awareness” about the histories of self-emancipated Black communities during the Civil War and Reconstruction Era “as a way of understanding and contextualizing our contemporary conditions.”

While Williams explained that sculpture was always meant to be “impermanent,” this past week’s extreme temperatures caused the wax effigy to melt away more rapidly than expected, resulting in some fairly humorous transformations — including an unintentional decapitation and the severance of Lincoln’s legs — that naturally caught the attention of users on social media.

Yesterday, CulturalDC announced that staff members removed the president’s head entirely in order to prevent further damage.

Williams noted that although melting is a fundamental part of the sculptural series, they were “not expecting this version of the artwork to melt in this way,” wholly attributing the sudden liquification to the heat waves.

“I have been using this type of wax for public sculptures since 2020, but this is the first time the ambient heat has had such a visible effect on its integrity,” Williams said, adding that visitors can extrapolate other meanings from the ongoing melting.

“Not only does [the current melting] reference the ways in which our histories of constant displacement, genocide, inequality, failures to repair, and massive resistance to social welfare programs frames our current political and social climate, but these failures have also led to the current climate disasters affecting all of us, including the Lincoln sculpture,” Williams remarked.

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To many, the sculpture’s melting aptly captured many people’s present frustration with the current state of the country. (screenshot Maya Pontone/Hyperallergic via @asliaydintasbas on X)

This is also not the first time the sculpture’s realization has not gone according to plan. An earlier version containing 100 wicks was installed in September 2023, but before it could be officially unveiled, a group of people lit over half of the wicks, resulting in another premature collapse that involved a headless Honest Abe.

A representative for CulturalDC told Hyperallergic that after consulting with the school’s principal and local community members, the installation will be removed before students return for the fall semester on August 26.

“This timeline is only slightly earlier than our original removal date of September 1st,” the representative said, adding that private collectors and galleries have made offers to purchase the work, although no firm decisions have been made yet.

“Personally, I think it’s a great platform for this work to spark conversations, not only about the historical significance of the site and of Lincoln, but about what’s going on in the world as it relates to climate change,” Kristi Maiselman, CulturalDC’s curator and executive director, told Hyperallergic.

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Extremely high temperatures that engulfed the United States’s capital region over the weekend resulted in an incidental decapitation of the 16th president.





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