The faces on Mount Rushmore alone were 60 feet high, or the height of a 6-story building. However, when the project first began, it was to include the presidents’ bodies down to their waists. When Borglum died in March of 1941 of an embolism, his son Lincoln took over the operation. With all the faces complete, work slowly continued for a few months. It wasn’t long until the money ran out and Lincoln was forced to call it complete on October 31, 1941, after a cost of $989,992.32. However, Mount Rushmore was not officially dedicated until 1991 under President George H.W. Bush.
In 1980, the Sioux Nation of Indians sued the United States Government regarding the Black Hills lands which included Mount Rushmore. The Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868 permanently grated the area to the Lakota. However, following several Indian attacks on migrant workers who crossed into the Lakota lands, the natives and the Americans fought the Great Sioux War of 1876. The following year, the United States again seized the lands from the Lakota. The Supreme Court ruled 103 years later that the government illegally obtained the Black Hills, awarding $120.5 million in land value and interest. Nevertheless, the Sioux refused the money, demanding the territory be returned instead. However, not all Lakota rejected the white man. The famous Lakota holy man, Ben Black Elk, greeted Mount Rushmore visitors personally from the late 1950’s to the early 1970’s.
Borglum died before he could complete the Hall of Records. In 1998, porcelain tablets inscribed with the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, were placed in the incomplete hall. Also included were biographies of the four presidents along with Borglum himself. All the items were placed in a sealed vault within the chamber, bringing Borglum’s dream to a reality.
Designated the “Shrine of Democracy,” the Mount Rushmore National Monument is visited by three million Americans and non-Americans alike a year. Remarkably, during the 14 years of construction at such heights and working with dynamite, not one of the 400 workers lost their lives in the creation of Mount Rushmore.
October 4, 2017
It was the beginning of the “Roaring Twenties,” and middle-America was experiencing a luxury usually limited to the very rich. The booming economy gave workers enough money to enjoy a vacation. (see The Forgotten President) Historian Johan LeRoy “Doane” Robinson wanted to find a way to attract those new tourists to South Dakota. Then he looked up.
In 1923, a series of stone pinnacles, called the Needles, drew his attention. He imagined carving them into Western heroes, including such figures as Lewis and Clark (see Where The River Flows), Buffalo Bill Cody, and Lakota leader Red Cloud. To accomplish such a feat, he needed a man able to handle the enormous task. Only one name came to mind.
At the time, Gutzon Borglum was working in Georgia on another large stone sculpture, known as Stone Mountain, honoring the Confederacy. Conflicts with his employers, the Daughters of the Confederacy, had him looking for a way out. Robinson’s call was the exit Borglum had been praying for.
After arriving in South Dakota, Borglum went straight to work, including changing all of Robinson’s ideas. Borglum’s vision went beyond a celebration of the West, searching to unite and attract citizens across America. Instead of the local heroes, Borglum looked to national figures. Additionally, the Needles proved to be too narrow for what he had in mind, so Borglum turned his attention to Mount Rushmore.
The Lakota Sioux knew the Black Hills mountain as “The Six Grandfathers,” however, the Americans did not. In 1885, leading New York lawyer, Charles Rushmore, took an expedition to inspect the titles to mining claims held by an eastern mining company. He asked his guide, local businessmen William Challis, the name of the mountain. Challis responded, “Never had any but it has now - we'll call the thing Rushmore,” taking the name Rushmore Peak, and later evolving to Mount Rushmore.
Borglum loved how the morning sun illuminated the mountainside. It was also massive enough to contain his larger than life sculpture. Finally, the granite rock proved to be a sturdy and long lasting material for the monument as it erodes only 1 inch every 10,000 years. The monument would be well persevered under natural elements. He was ready to get to work, but before he could begin, they needed Congressional approval.
Negotiations were long and tedious, but Borglum received authorization on March 3, 1925, with the formation of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Commission. Along with the money came a requirement from President Calvin Coolidge. In addition to George Washington, Coolidge wanted two Republicans and one Democrat president for the monument.
According to the National Park Service, the specific Presidents were chosen for the following reasons:
George Washington - As the first president, he represents American democracy from it’s foundation.
Theodore Roosevelt - Along with representing industrial development, he championed conservation efforts and developed National Parks.
Abraham Lincoln - He represents unity of the country, fighting to keep it and then successfully pulling the country back together after the Civil War.
Lincoln and Roosevelt were clearly Republicans, however Borglum may have taken a little liberty with Coolidge’s Democrat requirement. Thomas Jefferson was actually a Democratic-Republican, as the current Democrat Party wasn't formed until 1824 by Andrew Jackson. (see History Rhymes Again)
Construction began on October 4, 1927. Originally starting on Washington’s right, 18 months were spent carving Jefferson before work was abandoned due to the unsuitability of the rock in that section. The work done on his face to that point was “erased” with dynamite, with construction starting all over again with Washington.
Borglum brought along his son Lincoln to help him with the project. When the Borglums began hiring workers, they chose men already mining in the Black Hills. Even though these men weren’t artists, their skills with dynamite and jackhammers were exactly what the project needed to blast away the rock and form the faces. Using a process known as “honeycombing,” the blasting consisted of 90% of the work. Afterwards, fine carving produced a relatively smooth surface on the rock.
For a time, several of the workers formed an amateur baseball team. The Borglums got so carried away with the competition of the team, they often hired men for their ability to play baseball over their skills as stoneworkers.
In 1937, the year Lincoln’s face was completed, a congressman introduced a bill to include Susan B. Anthony, representing women’s rights. However, Congress voted instead to complete the project with the faces originally chosen. Work continued on to complete Roosevelt, the final president.
Unbeknown to anyone other than Borglum and his men, they secretly began work on a cave behind the structure in 1938. Referred to as the “Hall of Records,” this chamber was to house some of the most precious documents in American History, such as the Constitution of the United States, and the Declaration of Independence, as well as the history of the country. Congress found out about it about a year later and demanded federal funds only be used for the sculpture itself. Borglum was forced to abandon his chamber but vowed to finish it later.
Liberty, as you can see, Mount Rushmore has both a positive and negative history. Just focusing only on the good is just as harmful as focusing only on the bad. Both need to be studied and remembered, not only so we can emulate what we did right, but to also avoid what we did wrong. Antifa and other radical groups started tearing down Confederate statues a few months ago because all they insist on seeing is the bad. (see There’s Nothing Right About The Alt-Right). Many on the right commented if this behavior continued, they would start coming after our Founding Fathers and more. It did not take very long at all before that prediction started coming true. Even monuments like Mount Rushmore have been placed in harms way, threatened with complete destruction by radicals trying not only to erase our history, but to demonize our founding so much that citizens will insist we abandon the Constitution and start all over.
Liberty, freedom and self-governing were ideas completely foreign to the world until the pilgrims wrote the Mayflower Compact (see Thanks Be To God). Kings, emperors, and chiefs ruled countries and tribes, with succession automatically going to an heir or a conquering ruler. Washington and Jefferson gave us a government where the people were in charge, freeing them from the chains other governments placed on them. Lincoln finally liberated the black man from the shackles King George forced on the colonies before the American Revolution. Even as a progressive, Roosevelt understood that America should do everything to preserve that freedom, not kowtowing to any nation.
We are living in a time where some people want monuments like Mount Rushmore destroyed because Washington and Jefferson owned slaves. They can’t comprehend how people could stand by and watch the slaves be abused as property that could be disposed of at the whim of the owner. They even lament over it at pro-choice rallies as they champion a woman’s right to murder her baby at her whim as it is, of course, her property to do with as she pleases.
Yes, Liberty, America has skeletons in her closet. And every time we clear one out we replace it with more. Yet these men spent their lives, and one gave his life, correcting those wrongs. I pray that these monuments last long enough that you are able to show them to your children and grandchildren and tell them that history.
That’s my 2 cents.
SHRINE OF DEMOCRACY