Mount Rushmore

I have always wanted to visit Mount Rushmore.  Seeing the faces of the four presidents carved into the granite face of the mountain is quite an impressive sight.  How did such a monumental event even come to be?

Mount Rushmore got its name quite innocently.  A lawyer from New York, Charles E. Rushmore, was visiting a local tin mine in the Black Hills when he asked a friend what the name of the mountain was.  His friend laughed and said it had no name – and then gave it Rushmore’s name.  Ever since, it has been called Mount Rushmore.  Amazingly, the mountain was officially given the name in 1930, some 45 years after Charles E. Rushmore made his visit to South Dakota in 1885.  Perhaps out of a sense of responsibility, Rushmore actually gave the largest donation to the project of sculpting the mountain.  He gave $5000.  It may not seem like much, but back in the 1920s and 30s, this was a small fortune. (Remember the Stock Market Crash of 1929? Most people had lost all their money then).

Doane Robinson was the main person responsible for this monument called the Shrine of Democracy.  He wanted to create a reason for tourists to come visit South Dakota and the Black Hills.  He learned about the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, who was working on a similar project in Georgia.  When that project fell through, he convinced Borglum to come to South Dakota to come see the area.  Robinson was the main person responsible for collecting funds to complete the project.

Gutzon Borglum was the sculptor.  He was nearly 60 years old when he began working on the Shrine of Democracy.  Born in March of 1867, Borglum started his own studio in California.  His first memorable sculpture was of General John C. Fremont.  He then traveled to Europe for many years.  In 1901, he returned to the United States.  Other works of his include the bronze equestrian sculpture of General Phil Sheridan in Washington, DC, and the Bust of Lincoln in the Rotunda of the Capitol.  He was asked to sculpt a statue of Lee, Jackson, and Davis on the Stone Mountain in Georgia.  Far too many problems arose and the project was scrapped after he finished Lee’s face.  The project was never finished and Lee’s face was destroyed.  It was Doane Robinson who brought Borglum to South Dakota.

Many people do not read about the chief stone carver under Borglum.  His name was Luigi Del Bianco.  He met Borglum early on in the design process of Mount Rushmore.  He assisted Borglum with the Governor Hancock Memorial in South Carolina, the Stone Mountain in Georgia (before Borglum stopped working on it), and the Wars of America Memorial in Newark, New Jersey.   His job was to carve the main features of the presidents.  He did Lincoln's eyes and Jefferson's face.  He worked on the monument until the funds ran out. 

The project was agreed upon in 1924 and received the backing of Congress with the help of Congressman William Williamson and Senator Peter Norbeck.  Finally, after getting Congress to agree to allocate funds, the sculpture was started in 1927.  Mount Rushmore took 14 years to complete, and even then it was not finished the way Borglum wanted.  He wanted the figures to be from the waist to the head, but after his death in 1941, funding was not forthcoming.  His son put on the finishing touches, but the rest of the bodies were never completed.

Calvin Coolidge was president at the time and insisted on having two Democrats and one more Republican in addition to George Washington.  So, why the other three?  Of course we all understand why George Washington – he was the father of our country; our first president; and he was the commander-in-chief of the American forces during the Revolutionary War.  Thomas Jefferson was the main author of the Declaration of Independence – the document which guides countries to this day in setting up their own democracy.  He was also instrumental in the Louisiana Purchase, the parcel of land that doubled the size of our country.  Abraham Lincoln was chosen because he helped mend a broken country and keep it from self-destructing.  He abolished slavery so all men were free.  Finally, Theodore Roosevelt was chosen because his influence helped our country move into the 20th century.  He helped construct the Panama Canal which linked the east coast of our country to west coast.  Finally, he was known as a trust buster – keeping companies from gaining too much power.

Some final quick facts:
Mount Rushmore cost $989 million to construct.
The granite was chosen because it only erodes one inch every 10,000 years.
George Washington’s head was completed and dedicated on July 4, 1934.
Thomas Jefferson was supposed to be on the other side but the granite was not good enough.  His head was completed in 1936.
Abraham Lincoln’s head was completed on September 17, 1937.
Theodore Roosevelt’s head was finished in 1939.
Did you know there was a campaign to add Susan B. Anthony’s head to the group?  They could never raise the funds to do so.
The sculpture took 14 years to complete.
The statues are 60 feet high.  Each nose is 20 feet long.  The mouths are 18 feet wide, and the eyes are 11 feet across.
Once World War II broke out in 1942, funds were scarce and the memorial could not be finished.

A great link for Mount Rushmore is run by the National Park Services. 

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