Every year, my husband, Bob and I go to the Black Hills to go hiking and just to enjoy the area. It’s close to our home in Casper, Wyoming, and it just never gets old. Our favorite tourist site there is Mount Rushmore, and we try to stop in there every year. Mount Rushmore is such a special place, filled with patriotism and honor, but there are things I didn’t know about this, my favorite monument.
Gutzon Borglum was an amazing man. He designed and built Mount Rushmore between the years of 1927 and 1941. During the years of work, no one was ever killed, a credit to the safety measures put in place by Borglum. Originally the monument was planned as a tribute to the wild west, but Borglum had other ideas. Personally I like his ideas much better. A tribute to patriotism and honor is a much more fitting idea. The presidents Borglum chose were representative of specific aspects of history. His original plan was to carve the figures of these four men from head to waist, but with Borglum’s March 6, 1941 passing, came the beginning of the end of the monuments carving. Borglum’s son took over the carving, and at first it continued as normal, but the beginning of World War II greatly hampered things, and the monument was declared finished on October 31, 1941. Not only were the bodies of the presidents never finished, but Lincoln’s ear was also never finished. Somehow, Lincoln’s missing ear was something I never really noticed.
About 90% of the monument’s carving was done with dynamite. The dynamite stripped off the rough outer layers of stone, and then the minute details were finished by hand. In all, the workers blasted away more that 450,000 tons of rock. If you look below some of the viewing areas at the base of the mountain, you can still see the drill holes in the rock that was blasted away. It’s quite interesting to see how it was done. In all there were about 400 works who carved the mountain, being paid a modest wage of 45 to 75 cents an hour, for their extraordinary efforts. These days he probably couldn’t have hired any workers for that wage, but those were very different times. These men worked very hard doing grueling work and didn’t complain. I believe they could see the vision of their boss, and I think most were proud to be a part of such an amazing project. In many ways, I wish the project could have been finished. I think the final design would have been an amazing work of art. Nevertheless, I love the mountain monument, finished or not.
When a construction project begins, it usually takes a matter of a few months to complete. That is not how it works when carving a large sculpture, such as Mount Rushmore. Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a sculpture carved into the granite face of Mount Rushmore, a batholith in the Black Hills in Keystone, South Dakota, United States. It was the vision of Doane Robinson, who thought that carving the faces of famous people in the Granite of the Black Hills region, would bring tourists to the region. Robinson’s vision has proven to be an amazing success. His original idea was to put the sculpture in the area of the Needles, but the chosen sculptor, Gutzon Borglum rejected the idea because of the poor quality of the granite, and strong opposition from the Native American Groups in the area. I’m glad it didn’t go in the needles area, because they have a beauty all their own, and it would have been a shame to change them.
They settled on Mount Rushmore, which also has the advantage of facing southeast for maximum sun exposure, which makes the faces of our presidents stand out in an amazing way. Robinson wanted it to feature American West heroes like Lewis and Clark, Red Cloud, and Buffalo Bill Cody, but Borglum decided the sculpture should have broader appeal and chose the four presidents. Borglum created the sculpture’s design and oversaw the project’s execution from 1927 to 1941 with the help of his son, Lincoln Borglum. When I think of the years it too to complete the sculpture, I wonder if it was what was expected, or just the way it came down. Mount Rushmore features 60-foot sculptures of the heads of four United States presidents…George Washington (1732–1799), Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), and Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865). After securing federal funding through the enthusiastic sponsorship of “Mount Rushmore’s great political patron” US Senator Peter Norbeck, construction on the memorial began in 1927, and the presidents’ faces were completed between 1934 and 1939. Upon Gutzon Borglum’s death in March 1941, his son Lincoln Borglum took over as leader of the construction project. Each president was originally to be depicted from head to waist.
The memorial park covers 1,278.45 acres and is 5,725 feet above sea level, and while the sculpture work officially ended on October 31, 1941, due to lack of funding and the very real possibility of a United States entrance into World War II. Mount Rushmore has become an iconic symbol of the United States, and it has appeared in works of fiction, as well as being discussed or depicted in other popular works. It has also been featured a number of movies. It attracts over two million visitors annually. It’s amazing to me that what started out to be a tourist attraction, quickly became a must see place for every patriotic American. My husband and I love to go to the Black Hills, and with the close proximity to our Casper, Wyoming home, we take a week every summer to go and enjoy the beauty and patriotism that now resides there.
Over the years, my family and I have spent many vacations and weekend trips, especially the 4th of July, in the Black Hills of South Dakota. We love the area, and it’s close enough to home to get there even for a three day weekend. Bob and I mostly love to hike the many trails there, as opposed to the tourist attractions, since we have been there many times. Nevertheless, there are a few places that we usually go and things we usually do, like the 1880 Train, Keystone, and of course, Mount Rushmore. Being patriots, Bob and I are very much impressed by the carvings on Mount Rushmore. I think most people know that four United States Presidents, who were instrumental in making this country great, are carved in the granite face of the mountain. If you go there, you will see, President George Washington, President Thomas Jefferson, President Theodore Roosevelt, and President Abraham Lincoln, looking out across the land, making a majestic tribute to these men and to our nation as a whole. These four presidents were chosen because they represent the first 130 years of American history well. These presidents were selected by Borglum because of their role in preserving the Republic and expanding its territory. I can’t go there, or even drive by the monument, without feeling a deep sense of pride and awe. It’s almost like you can feel history when you are there.
On March 5, 1925, the Governor of South Dakota, Carl Gunderson signed the Mount Harney bill, which would allow the carving of a monument in Custer State Park. The mountain was chosen as the sight for the carvings by Gutzon Borglum, the artist in charge of the project, and really the visionary of what it would become. It was dedicated on October 1, 1925, as the sight for the carving that South Dakota state historian Doane Robinson first dreamed of seeing in the Black Hills, back in 1923. On October 7, 1927, the actual carving began. The project took 14 years and 400 men to complete the carving of the mountain. The conditions were harsh and dangerous, yet no one died during the project. Over 90% of Mount Rushmore was carved using dynamite. That is probably one of the facts about Rushmore that most people find most intriguing. The blasts removed approximately 450,000 tons of rock. If you walk on the President’s Trail, you can still see the drill marks used for the dynamite. The fine details were finished with jackhammers and hand chisels. It really isn’t what you would have expected at all.
George Washington was dedicated on July 4, 1930. Then work began on Thomas Jefferson, but many people thought it was Martha Washington for a time…a drawback of an artists work being done so much in the public eye. Thomas Jefferson was dedicated on August 30, 1936. Abraham Lincoln was dedicated on this day, September 17, 1937, and Theodore Roosevelt was dedicated on July 2, 1939. The Hall of Records was never finished because of dangerous working conditions. Gutzon Borglum died suddenly on March 6, 1942, and the work on the mountain was finished by his son, Lincoln Borglum. With the onset of the US involvement in World War II, the mountain was declared complete on October 31, 1941. So ended the work on the mountain, and I really never get tired of hearing the story.