Lincoln Memorial to get long-awaited makeover, underground visitor's center

WASHINGTON -- It’s not every day you get a personal tour of the Lincoln Memorial -- and the tour-guide is a billionaire.

“We’ve had a lot of great presidents, but there’s no doubt that Lincoln held the country together, and I think therefore probably is our greatest president,” said financier David Rubenstein.

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Philanthropist David Rubenstein tours the Lincoln Memorial February 15, 2016 in Washington, DC. Rubenstein announced he is giving 18 million dollars to make improvements to the Lincoln Memorial. 

Drew Angerer, Getty Images

He has spent tens of millions of his own fortune to refurbish everything from the Iwo Jima Memorial to the Washington Monument.

Now he’s giving another $18.5 million to the park service to repair this memorial’s stained walls and leaky roof. They’ll also scrub clean two iconic murals, and some of the most moving and important words ever uttered by an American president.

But the biggest change will be underground.

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Chip Reid and David Rubenstein tour underground the Lincoln Memorial, where a visitor's center will be built.

CBS News

For the first time tourists will be able to see the subterranean cavern that looks like a cathedral, and to view graffiti sketched by construction workers almost 100 years ago.

The visitors center will be in that area. That’s right -- a massive 15,000 square foot underground educational center will dramatically change the Lincoln Memorial experience.

“So there will be much more opportunity to learn about Lincoln and to really come away from this Lincoln Memorial with a real sense of who Lincoln was and what he did,” Rubenstein explained.

“I do it because I think I’m giving back to my country in a small, modest way perhaps. And hope I inspire other people to do the same,” he continued. “I don’t have enough resources to do it myself, I want other people to do it as well.”

It’s a mission born of Rubenstein’s love of his country, and the great Americans who gave it life.

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.