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.
I have always known of my family’s relationship to Princess Diana, and I also knew about the Knox family’s relationship to James Knox Polk, who is Bob’s 2nd cousin 5 times removed, but in more recent years I have come across, or as one family member put it, tripped over a line of presidents on my side of the family as well as Bob’s. It seems that both of us are related George HW Bush, my 15th cousin once removed, and George W Bush, who is my 15th cousin 2 times removed. We are also related to, although in a roundabout way, Andrew Jackson, the husband of aunt of wife of 1st cousin 6x removed of my husband, Bob…I know, that one is a little bit complicated.
I did not know of the Spencer connection to, Calvin Coolidge, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and George Washington. I also did not know of the Knox connection to the family history to Kentucky Frontiersman Daniel Boone, Benjamin Harrison, a signer of the Declaration of Independence; his son, William Henry Harrison, 9th President of the United States; his great-grandson, Benjamin Harrison, 23rd President of the United States and…President George Washington. At this point, I don’t know at what level we are related to these, but I am finding out that Bob’s family history and my family history are intermingled in several areas. Now that I have some of this information, I look forward to putting these people into my family history, so I can find out how we are connected and who else might be in the family.
I have also found out that on the Spencer side of the family, Henry and Isabella Lincoln Spencer, who lived in the 1400’s, had a very large influence on the United States, as well as England, through their offspring. And, I have found out that John and Jean Gracy Knox, who lived in the 1700’s, also had a large influence in American history through their offspring. It is very strange to me to look at the people in history, knowing that at the time they had children, they had no idea what impact those children and their descendants would have on the world. To be an American president or a signer of the Declaration of Independence, made these men very well known throughout history. Even a frontiersman from Kentucky who probably never gave any thought to what the future of our nation might be at the time he was doing his part to go down in history, has managed to become an endeared character in all the history books, as well as, in television shows and movies. Who would have ever thought that could happen?
It’s odd to think that, depending on what we do with our lives, any one of us could stand out in the history of the nation and the world. Little did anyone think of the future when they began whatever cause they held close to their heart, and yet, just a short time down the road, they have become a household name, written in every history book, with parks, schools, museums, and airports, named after them. I wonder if they had any inkling just how big they were going to become. It is mind boggling just to think back on it now, and I’m not them. Of course, they didn’t really know how big they would be at the time they were becoming so big. Still, the presidents had to have known at the time they were elected that they had joined an elite group of men, and that would never change from that point on. Good or bad, right or wrong, the decisions they made from the first day of their presidency to the last, would be on record as either a testament or detriment to the man. I think that, in itself, would be a daunting thought, but in reality, they couldn’t think about that much when the decisions that affect a nation are in their hands. Just like their predecessors, they are a part of a long line of presidents, and some of them, are a part of my family.