Mount Rushmore is one of the easier monuments to visit while keeping our social distance. So, in this time of political bickering, why not visit some presidents that we can almost all agree were great?
We thought we were on a quest to see Mount Rushmore but found much more.
The area is filled with an interesting, if a bit unsavory, history. We rapidly discovered that an extraordinary work of art can have an unseemly creator.
The creation of one of America’s greatest works of art was not without controversy.
In 1923, after removing all of the Native Americans and most of the gold from the Black Hills, historian Doane Robinson thought that an enormous something should be done to promote tourism.
Robinson asked noted sculptor and Klansman (as in KKK), Gutzon Borglum, to carve a tribute to America’s first 150 years into the side of a mountain.
Gutzon happened to be available, due to a falling out with his Klan buddies regarding the depiction the heroes of the Confederacy during his Stone Mountain project in Georgia.
Borglum came to the Black Hills to scout out an acceptable site for his masterpiece and selected the 5,725 foot high Mount Rushmore, named for New York industrialist Charles E. Rushmore who had mining interests in the hills.
Politics, bigotry and secret society memberships aside, ol’ Gutzon sure could carve rock on a grand scale.
In 1925 Congress authorized funds for the project and in 1927 Borglum and four hundred workers began chipping away with everything from dynamite to tiny hand tools on the four sixty foot faces.
In 1933 the National Park Service took control of the monument and by 1934 the first face, Washington’s, was finished and dedicated. Jefferson followed in 1936 and Lincoln in 1937.
There was some talk in congress of adding Susan B. Anthony’s likeness to the monument but with limited funds, Roosevelt’s face was the final one, dedicated in 1939.
Work came to a halt with Gutzon Borglum’s death and the beginning of World War II in 1941.
The end of work did not bring an end to the disputes. In 1971 members of the Sioux Nations occupied the monument, hung a drape over the faces and renamed it Mount Crazy Horse.
Despite the controversies, this is a great work of art celebrating great presidents.
The main entrance to the monument leads up The Avenue of Flags to the museum and Grand View Terrace.
The path is lined with tributes to every state and territory in the union, marking the date of their admission. As we proceeded under the flags, gazing up at the mountain, the grandeur of the sculpture really hit us. Photographs simply do not do it justice.
The view from the Terrace truly is Grand (well named guys!) and the museum offers a fascinating look at the construction methods and history of the monument.
Deciding we needed a closer look, we headed up the Presidential Trail that proceeds to the base of the faces. Well worth the climb, standing among the piles of fallen rock, cast-off from the carving, we were rewarded with views right up the nostrils of America’s greatest leaders.