One of the most iconic images in American culture – Mt. Rushmore is an emblem of patriotism, a crossroads of hope as the past triumphs and mistakes of our nation meet to invite all-Americans to rise up and fight for freedom, equality and the ideals of democracy.
I’ve been blessed to have visited Mt. Rushmore three times and each visit I fall more in love with the Monument and Black Hills. It is a unique place that makes me meditate on what it means to be American. Our unique strengths and dynamic history. It reminds us of the hope of democracy and our duty as citizens to strive to give back and rise to the challenges of each generation – democracy and freedom. Our democracy is not a monument of stone, but a living breathing insitution and Mt. Rushmore merely reminds us of the foundations we stand.
So how did an four Presidents get carved into a granite outcropping in the Black Hills? While Mt. Rushmore draws over 2 million visitors per year – at the time the idea seems a bit outlandish.
How did Mt. Rushmore come to be?
It starts with South Dakotan Doane Robinson…known as the Father of Mt. Rushmore, Doane Robinson noticed the rocky outcropping of his native Black Hills would be ideal for carved statues. He imagined monuments of stone being carved into the rock to attract tourism to the Black Hills economy, while celebrating legendary heroes of the old west – pioneers and famous Native Americans.
In 1924, Robinson reached out to famed sculptor Gutzon Borglum and invited him to visit the Black Hills to discuss the idea of heroes in stone. Borglum was working on Stone Mountain in Georgia and turned out to be the perfect fit for the project.
Borglum selected Mt. Rushmore as the ideal site for carving. The mountain was named after a New York lawyer who had gold claims in the area and the name stuck (even after the monument was commissioned)
Borglum suggested that Mt. Rushmore be a national focus – a sculpture of founding father’s – a monument to American ideals that would serve the test of time.
High profile South Dakotans including, Peter Norbeck and John Boland worked tirelessly to raise funds for the project.
In 1927 they courted President Calvin Coolidge. As I mentioned in a previous post, Coolidge and his wife fell in love with The Black Hills – staying over three months in Custer State Park and the Black Hills area.
While the project was already in motion, Coolidge support helped secure the future of Mt. Rushmore. He dedicated the project in August 1927.
Carving a mountain like Rushmore was no easy feat. Gutzon Borglum and his son Lincoln’s enthusiam and vision no doubt cemented the legacy of Mt Rushmore.
Over 400 workers contributed to Mt. Rushmore from 1927 to 1941.
While seeing Mt. Rushmore itself is a highlight of your visit – I find the story behind Mount Rushmore and the people and stories involved just as magnificent. Mt. Rushmore has a fantastic museum that details the history of the creation of Mt. Rushmore as well as the history of America and the hope for a better tomorrow.
When you arrive at Mt. Rushmore there is a parking fee ($10) – the grand entrance meanders through the Avenue of Flags with Mt. Rushmore clearly in view. The avenue of flags has dedicated spaces for U.S. state flags. This avenue reminds us that no matter what our background – which state or region we are from – we are all Americans, which a unique history and hope for a better future. No matter your political views – it is hard not to be moved by the spirit of Mt. Rushmore.
Mt. Rushmore has lots of great viewing areas on the main viewing deck.
If you have time,I recommend getting off the beaten path and walk the .6 mile Presidential Trail. This scenic trail gives you unique perspectives – from profile views of each president and access to Borglum’s studio.
The trail does have several steps and a bit of elevation, but it is fairly easy with lots of places to catch your breath.
One thing I love about Mt. Rushmore is the professional historians on site. I enjoyed a twenty minute ranger talk detailing a brief history of why each of the four Presidents: Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln were chosen. The historians are able to present the unique and complexities of history. America is a patchwork of cultures and unique identites – but we are all American and Mt. Rushmore reminds us of that aspirational hope. It is a place that can unite us in differences and similarities. Americans in hope for peace, democracy and a better tomorrow.
So why did Borglum and the committee select: Washington, Jeffereson, Roosevelt and Lincoln?
George Washington: Served 1789-97 –
As a founder of our nation and America’s first president – George Washington was a natural choice. He commanded the Continental Army in the American Revolution, building a cohesive fighting force that won independence from Great Britain. He was well-like for his ethics and unanimously elected first US president. He served two terms (and refused a third, refusing to hold onto power – rather encouraging lasting democracy)
Thomas Jefferson: Served 1801-09 was chosen to represent expansion because he was the president who signed the Louisiana Purchase (doubling the size of the US), commissioned the Lewis and Clark expedition and of course he was the writer and signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Theodore Roosevelt: Served 1901-09
The youngest man to become president, Roosevelt was an advocate for the parks and conversed many lands throughout the US(millions of acres) The Black Hills was one of Roosevelt’s favorite places to visit.
Abraham Lincoln: Served 1861-1865
Abraham Lincoln took office on the eve of the natin’s greatest trial and devoted his presidency to ending the Civil War. In 1862 he issued the prelimminary Emancipation Proclamation, the first step toward ending slavery. HIs Gettysburg Address is still one of the most compelling American speeches. Lincoln was assasinated right after the war – but his courage and strength to defend and preserve our Union reminds us all that no matter our differences we are all Americans.
Mt. Rushmore was finished in 1941 just before the start of World War II – which certainly made it’s completion more important – a reminder of fortitude in the struggles to come.
Borglum died shortly before the project was finished, but his son Lincoln was able to complete it.
I could spend dozens of entries just detailing Mt. Rushmore – from the construction, to history and influence – but hopefully this overview has you excited to learn more. I recommend visiting these websites to continue your Mt. Rushmore virtual journey
75 Surprising Facts about Mt. Rushmore
Food and Souvenirs: Mt. Rushmore has several souvenir shops as well as a dining room offering views of the mountain. It is a great place to grab ‘Thomas Jefferson’s ice cream(supposedly his recipe)’ and a burger and fries.
Fun fact: I love Alfred Hitchcock and North by Northwest with Cary Grant and James Mason was filmed at Mt. Rushmore. Mt. Rushmore also is the background for National Treasure 2 with Nicholas Cage
Next up – we’ll return to Custer State Park and also tour the Lakota monument in stone – Crazy Horse