Mount Rushmore is a national treasure, it surpasses political divides and conflict, it is an emblem of our unity as a nation, and growing above our hardships and mistakes to the ideal of democracy. It is an international symbol of America, that attracts millions of tourists from as far away as Russia and China to nearby Rapid City. I asked my friend who is from Russia (she went to Belmont with me) why she made it a priority to visit Mount Rushmore on her vacation to the US - it is because Mt. Rushmore is a symbol of hope in human's overcoming the impossible odds to have a peaceful form of government - is it perfect, no, but it is a memorial to that hope and stirs the patriotism in Americans to fight to preserve the diverse fabric of our nation from the Native American cultures of the Lakota who consider these hills sacred, school children who are first learning of American history, to adults who have varying opinions to immigrants who see Mount Rushmore for the first time. It is an inspiring testament, the monument is artistry and a feat that took countless hours, hard work, blasting and sculpting...Mount Rushmore is a pipe dream that seemed impossible, yet now it stands as a testament to working together for a good goal.
In 1923 South Dakota state historian Doane Robinson suggested carving giant statues into the granite outcroppings of the Black Hills...Robinson wanted to memorialize historical figures of the state including Red Cloud, Lewis & Clark and Buffalo Bill, Custer....He initially proposed The Needle outcroppings, but it was decided 'God made the Needles' and they should not be tampered with. The idea behind the carvings was to increase tourism to The Black Hills.
The memorial's backers called in master sculptor of Stone Mountain in Georgia, Gutzon Borglum. In an era when many artists were disenchanted with American patriotism, Borglum made his name through celebration of things American. Borglum was born in Idaho to Danish immigrants and studied art in Paris. He studied in the shadow of his artist brother, Solon....Borglum was an up and coming sculptor of increasing fame when he was approached about the giant sculpting project that became Mount Rushmore.
Borglum scouted out a location far better than the fragile Needles: 5,725 foot Mount Rushmore (named after a New York lawyer in 1885). Its broad wall of exposed granite, faced southeast to receive direct sunlight for most of the day. Borglum's goal, to carve the mountain as a last memorial to American ideals: "in commemoration of the foundation, preservation, and continental expansion of the United States."
Borglum selected four U.S. presidents that defined the history of America:
George Washington: commander of the Revolutionary army and first U.S. President - he set the standard of how a leader should act, gracious and hard-working, noble and honest, working for democracy in action, a public servant for the people in a government by the people.
Thomas Jefferson: As author of the Declaration of Independence and our third President, Jefferson was instrumental in forming America and promoting democracy. During his presidency he was the mastermind of the Louisiana Purchase, which nearly tripled the size of the nation and helped open up South Dakota area as US territory. He sponsored the Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery, which plays a critical part in South Dakota and American history...
To the far right on the monument:
Abraham Lincoln, whose leadership restored the Union out of the bloody Civil War and ended slavery on U.S. soil
Theodore Roosevelt was chosen for his role in conservation and progressive initiatives. At the time of commissioning Mt. Rushmore, many did not want Roosevelt added, but now he is considered one of our finest presidents and patron of our parks system.
During his Summer White House stay in Custer State Park, President Calvin Coolidge dedicated the memorial in 1927, commencing fourteen years of work; only six years were spent on actual carving. Money became an obstacle, particularly with the Great Depression. Borglum didn't give up, lobbying officials, representatives, senators and presidents. "The work is purely a national memorial," he insisted at a congressional hearing in 1938. Pride in country in uncertain times bonds the country together - diversity yet unity under the American flag of freedom. The project also created good jobs, and good will.
The Washington head was finished first in 1930. It is interested to know that Washington had to be first and farthest left because of the carving of his nose and profile, Borglum was meticulous in siting and planning the exact placement of each head based on erosion factors, sunlight, etc...
President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated Jefferson in 1936, Lincoln in 1937 and Roosevelt in 1939. Borglum died in 1941, but his son Lincoln, a brilliant sculptor in his own right finished work. Work stopped in October 1941, on the eve of U.S. entry into World War II, a testament of American spirit that so many brave men and women have fought to preserve and protect.
Things to Do:
- See the Monument: One of the best angles of view, outside of the main viewing platform, is on the President's Trail. The .5 mile Presidential Trail begins at the Grand View Terrace and provides access to the viewing sites near the talus slop of the facing. The trail also winds to Borglum's Sculptor's Studio: displays models and tools used in the carving process-giving an insight on the planning and artistry of the monument.
-Go to the Lincoln Borglum Museum, watch the 13-minute history film and tour the exhibit halls. I recommend doing this first.
-Grab some ice-cream in the dining hall...peruse the gift shop
-At night a lighting ceremony is held in the amphitheater
-Ranger talks occur throughout the day
For more information about Mount Rushmore, including interesting facts and history, visit the official webpage:
Fun Facts about Mount Rushmore:
View from President's Trail