In celebration of Presidents Day, it is my honor to shine a big bright spotlight on that wonderful national monument of ours, Mount Rushmore; a timely topic since birthday boys George Washington and Abraham Lincoln both are immortalized there right alongside compatriots Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt.
Nestled in the Southwestern portion of South Dakota in the Black Hills area, the world-renowned monument with its four famous visages was carved into the granite face of Mount Rushmore by Danish-American Sculptor, Gutzon Borglum (with a little help of course). Construction began in 1927 and was completed in the autumn of 1941 by Borglum’s son Lincoln.
My personal introduction to Mount Rushmore was in the summer of 2006. I finally had the opportunity to see this legendary creation for myself after having wanted to see it in person for as long as I could remember. I was in my early thirties then and the Mount Rushmore National Memorial was just one stop on an ambitious road trip which included a general tour of the Black Hills area, Crazy Horse and a large chunk of the Northwestern corner of the United States.
My knee-jerk reaction as I walked out of the National Memorial visitor’s center and into the
primary viewing area however, was-that much like the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore was a whole lot….smaller than I’d imagined. Neither did it help that the viewing area was laid out in a fashion that confined the space for visitors to roam about in thus limiting the monument’s viewing angle for the most part to…straight on. Despite these unfortunate realities, understanding dawned on me that the actual monument is located a significant distance away from the viewing area and it was naturally going to appear smaller from that vantage point than what a person would see on a postcard or in a good action movie.
What impacted me most about the experience that day however, wasn’t the size discrepancy at all. It was something else entirely; something I hadn’t expected, couldn’t quantify or even put a finger on. To put it mildly, I was awestruck. Taking in the panoramic beauty of the site and the monument itself, I found myself unwittingly caught in the grip of something so incredible and so powerfully patriotic-I couldn’t peel my eyes away. In that moment, as I stared up at the four granite gods, my heart began to swell and I felt more patriotic and proud of my country than I had ever felt before. Overcome with emotion, I spent a tremendous amount of time rooted to the spot-moments melting away like butter in the sun and for the longest time simply unable to move. Typically a person can only stare at the same thing for so long before boredom sets in, but that wasn’t the case in this instance. I was drawn, heart and soul-to the majestic creation before me as if some mystical force had complete control over my senses.
I’m not sure to this day what came over me in those moments. Was it a burning pride for my country that had ensnared me? Was it the respect and marvel I felt at my fellow countrymen’s ambitious accomplishment that swept me away? Or was it simply the four familiar legends raised high above me like Greek gods surveying the lands they helped build and shape?
Most likely my experience was a combination of all of these things. I snapped a handful of photos that day before permanently putting away my 35 mm so I could be fully present in the moment. Sure, I still have those pictures-but what I really took away from my visit to Mount Rushmore that day was the swell of emotion that I felt. Nearly ten years have passed and I still remember the feeling like it was yesterday. I’ve always been proud of my country, but never more so than in those moments.
Unfortunately I have not been back to see Mount Rushmore since, but every once in a while it still calls to me, whispering in my ear to return-and each year the whispers seem to get louder and louder. Have a very happy President’s Day.
- It took 14 years and 400 men to carve the mountain. Despite harsh and dangerous conditions, no one died during the project.
- Mount Rushmore cost nearly one million dollars and was mostly carved during the Great Depression.
- Over 90% of Mount Rushmore was carved using dynamite. The blasts removed approximately 450,000 tons of rock. Details were finished with jackhammers and hand chisels.
- The faces of Mount Rushmore are 60 feet high. That’s the same size as a six-story building.
- Thomas Jefferson’s face on Mount Rushmore was originally started on the opposite side of George Washington, but 18 months into the carving, they realized the granite was too weak. His face was dynamited off and carved on the other side.