The Lincoln Memorial was closed for cleaning Friday morning after Abraham Lincoln's statue was splattered with green paint by vandals.

WASHINGTON -- The Lincoln Memorial, one of Washington’s most popular and iconic attractions, was temporarily closed Friday morning after a vandal threw green paint on the statue of Abraham Lincoln.

Authorities from the National Park Service discovered the paint at 1:30 a.m., according to park rangers, but did not know who had defaced the statue or why. The green paint was splashed across the base of the statue, as well as Lincoln’s legs and jacket.

[Updated, 7:10 p.m., PST July 26: The memorial was reopened Friday evening. Officials said a work crew would resume the cleaning process Saturday morning.]

The usual summer stream of visitors and tour buses dropped by the memorial throughout the morning, but were stopped at the entrance of the building by barricades.

Workers were busy cleaning the statue Friday, but the paint was slow to come off.

The Lincoln Memorial opened in 1922 to honor the nation’s 16th president, who led the United States through the Civil War. Designed like a Greek temple, its centerpiece statue of a sitting Lincoln is flanked by the text from two of his most famous speeches: his second inaugural address and the Gettysburg Address.

Some visitors Friday morning were drawn by news of the vandalism, but most were shocked to discover it.

Rosalyn Prioleau, leading a group of Girl Scouts from South Carolina, was upset by the disrespect the act showed to Lincoln.

“This is what American stands on — his ideals of equality and justice,” she said. “Whoever did this is anti-American.”

Rich Hutson, visiting from North Carolina for the weekend to celebrate his son’s birthday, was disappointed that the family would not be able to go inside the memorial.

“You just can’t see the full effect,” he said. “But it’s still very powerful and moving.”

His wife, Jeannine, wondered what could have motivated the vandals.

“How does it further any cause?” she asked.

“If they got up that close, they easily could have done something worse,” she added. “That’s probably more troubling than the green paint.”

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alexei.koseff@latimes.com