American History is Alive in the Stone of South Dakota
Lately national patriotism seems to be only worthy of contempt by some people. I’m not sure what a community becomes if it stops celebrating the people and events that contributed to making it what it is? In many instances the monuments themselves can leave us overwhelmed and you can at least admire the craftsmen who created them.
Majestic figures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, carved into the beauty of the Black Hill’s rock in South Dakota, pays homage to American greatness.
Carved into the southeastern face of Mount Rushmore in Black Hills National Forest are four gigantic sculptures depicting the faces of these U.S. Presidents. These 60-foot high faces were chiseled from the granite rock face between 1927 and 1941, and represent one of the world’s largest pieces of sculpture, becoming one of America’s most popular tourist attractions.
It was conceived and planned as a tourist attraction for the Black Hills in the early 1920s and South Dakota’s state historian Doane Robinson came up with the idea. He wanted to sculpt “the Needles” (giant natural granite pillars) into the shape of historic heroes of the West. One he proposed was Red Cloud, the Sioux chief. In August 1924, after the original sculptor he contacted was unavailable, Robinson contacted Gutzon Borglum, an American sculptor of Danish descent who was then working on carving an image of the Confederate General Robert E. Lee into the face of Georgia’s Stone Mountain.
Borglum accepted the project and convinced Robinson that the sculpture in South Dakota should depict George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, as that would give it national, and not just local, significance. He would later add Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt to the list, in recognition of their contributions to the birth of democracy and the growth of the United States.
In 1929 President, Calvin Coolidge signed legislation appropriating $250,000 in federal funds to the Rushmore project and created the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Commission to manage the project.
To carve the heads into Mount Rushmore, Borglum adopted new methods involving blasting and pneumatic hammers to cut through the rock, in addition to traditional tools like drills and chisels. 400 workers removed about 500,000 tons of rock from the mountain, which still sit in a heap at the base of the mountain.
On July 4, 1930, the first dedication ceremony was held for the bust of Washington. Workers discovered the stone in the original location to the right of Washington too weak, so they moved Jefferson’s head to the left of Washington. Jefferson was dedicated in August 1936, in a ceremony attended by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In September 1937, Lincoln’s head was dedicated, while the fourth and final head of Theodore Roosevelt, was dedicated in July 1939. Gutzon Borglum died in March 1941, and it was left to his son Lincoln to complete the final details of Mount Rushmore in time for its final dedication ceremony on October 31 of that year.
Mount Rushmore’s Secret Chamber
After the sculpting was finally completed one little-known feature of Danish-American sculptor Gutzon Borglum’s plan for the “Shrine of Democracy Sculpture” was left unfinished and remains concealed from view behind Lincoln’s eye brow. Carved into the solid granite wall of a small canyon running right behind Lincoln is an 18-foot-tall doorway that resembles the entrance to a tomb of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh. What’s inside is an empty room 75 feet deep and 35-feet-tall. It has holes drilled into the walls that would hold dynamite for blasting and red numbers, painted by Borglum himself, provided instructions for the removal of blasted rocks.
Borglum had intended for this incomplete chamber to be, in essence, his artist’s statement, explaining the meaning of his sculpture for civilizations in the distant future. His plan was for a grand, 800-foot-long staircase ascending Mount Rushmore that would lead to a glorious chamber called the “Hall of Records.” Borglum wrote,“Into this room the records of what our people aspired to and what they accomplished should be collected, and on the walls of this room should be cut the literal record of conception of our republic; its successful creation; the record of its westward movement to the Pacific; its presidents; how the Memorial was built, and frankly, why.”
Visit this remarkable mountain, if not to celebrate America, at least to stand in wonder at what we, as humans can accomplish. Hopefully you’ll come for both reasons And enjoy a beautiful day in the South Dakota Mountains.