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Friday, September 22, 2017


Mt. Rushmore, near Rapid City, South Dakota, is another site where seeing is believing.  It’s difficult to imagine any travel book about the United States without the iconic figures of the four presidents, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln sculpted in granite high above the Badlands in the Black Hills of South Dakota. 

There’s so much more to Mt. Rushmore than viewing, however, and it’s impossible to leave without a deep feeling of wonder, an appreciation for commitment, and an amazement at the detailed art and skill demonstrated in these sculptures.

The sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, may not have originated the idea of a massive sculpture on the site, but once involved, he convinced President Coolidge to give the go-ahead to depict these four presidents on Mt. Rushmore (see ).  According to the facts in the informative exhibits within the museum at Mt. Rushmore, they symbolize the principles of liberty and freedom upon which this country was founded.

George Washington represents the struggle for independence and the birth of the nation.

There is a steadfastness of character depicted in his countenance.
Notice the detail, too, in the clothing, especially around the chin and neck.

Thomas Jefferson represents the territorial expansion of the country.

His head seems tilted slightly upward, looking out into the future across the land.

Abraham Lincoln represents the permanent union of the States and equality for all citizens.

I notice his furrowed brow and the look of sadness in his eyes, perhaps at the tasks he faced.
I am so moved by the details of his beard as well as the lines and hollows of his cheeks.
Teddy Roosevelt represents the 20th century role of the United States and the rights of the common man.

The eyes are captivating.
The details of his moustache and the pince-nez are there just as they appear in his photographs.
It's hard to imagine chiseling the details of that face on this wall of granite.

When you combine the symbolism with the history, Mt. Rushmore becomes even more impressive, almost prophetic and certainly a reach toward the American Dream. It was government funded, begun in 1927 and completed in 1941, shortly, sadly, after Borglum died earlier that same year.  He had been working with his son, Lincoln (a wonderful name for the son of the man who designed this sculpture, don’t you think?), and Lincoln Borglum completed it.  A crew of over 400 men worked on it.  For the most part they were miners who had come to the Black Hills in search of gold and in search of the American Dream.  Most of the work was completed during The Great Depression when it was hard to picture that American dream.  But the dream of this sculpture never died, despite funding problems and changes along the way. 

To add some perspective, each face is 60 feet high, the height of a six story building.  Imagine, then, the approach to the Grand View Terrace as visitors pass under arches and then an array of flags where all fifty states, three territories, and two commonwealths of the United States are represented.

At this point there is still a distance to go when you consider the number of flags.
Then more arches and then a terrace where you can gaze up at the memorial.
Being there, you realize the scope of this incredible work of art.
If visitors wish, they may take the Presidential Trail, a .05 mile trail with 422 stairs to get up close and personal.  UP might be the operative word here.

On the grounds is a museum and other exhibits that give additional information about Borglum’s original and more developed plans for Mt. Rushmore.  All in all, it is a complete experience truly worthy of its reputation as one of the premier sites in America.  

These days there is yearly maintenance by mountain climbers who work to seal cracks that develop.  Other cracks are monitored through a system of optical fiber cables.  Still, having been carved in granite, Mt. Rushmore will be here a very, very long time.

Mt. Rushmore isn't the only great sculpture we visit that day.  Not far away is the work-in-progress Crazy Horse Memorial, which, when finished will be the largest rock sculpture in the world.

I wish I could show you how incredibly far away we are at this point.
Pictures cannot accurately show the massive size of this sculpture.
For comparison, the face of each president on Mt. Rushmore is 60 feet high while the face of Crazy Horse is 87 feet, 6 inches high.  That part of the sculpture was completed in 1998. Think massive.

Look at those vehicles.
Matchbox cars???
The entire carving, when completed, will be 641 feet long and 563 feet high.  It’s hard to envision it even when we stand on the balcony by the restaurant and try to picture what the finished carving will be.  And we hazard guesses about when it will finished.

When you consider that this model is 1/34th the size of the actual carving,
and when you look at that tourist,
 you can imagine how huge the Crazy Horse Monument will be.
The sculpture’s creator, Korczak Ziokowski, actually worked on Mt. Rushmore for about 19 days, and different stories surround his leaving depending on which website you visit.  Nevertheless, he built a house at the base; he and his wife raised 10 children there; some and their children and relatives still at work on the project.  Ziokowski was brought to the area by an Oglala Lakota Chief, Henry Standing Bear to create a monument to honor Crazy Horse after the government refused to add Crazy Horse to Mt. Rushmore, a request prompted because Mt. Rushmore is on ancient tribal land.

Funding is through the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation, and no government money is accepted.

Over the years, there has been a great deal of controversy over the Monument, but none takes away from the awesome size, the history, the people involved, or the expectations of many when they see Crazy Horse from afar.  It’s quite an experience.  One I shall never forget.

 For more information for your visit, you might check out this site:

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