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President’s on the Rocks: The Making of Mount Rushmore

Jeffrey Syken

Perhaps we should give Henry Ford credit for what came to be the world’s largest sculpture and a beloved National Memorial. After all, it was his mass produced “Model T” that gave people the opportunity to travel far and wide to places they would not otherwise have gotten the chance to visit in their lifetime. By the 1920s, the American public was eager to take their “Tin Lizzy” to see new and interesting places on America’s growing road network. That got South Dakota State Historian Doane Robinson to think about how he could attract visitors to his beautiful but isolated state, in particular the scenic Black Hills, in the southwest corner of the state. It dawned on Robinson that what he, and the State of South Dakota needed, was something to attract day-trippers and vacationers alike to the area. When he read in the newspapers of a large bas-relief sculpture of Confederate heroes being carved onto the face of Stone Mountain, just outside Atlanta, GA., he had his “flash of genius.” He invited the sculptor – Gutzon Borglum, to visit the Black Hills to discuss the possibilities. Soon, Robinson’s idea of carving the granite “needles” of the Black Hills with the figures of western heroes turned to carving the granite face of Mount Rushmore with the figures of those Presidents who were most influential during the first 150 years of the nation’s history. The result was the “Shrine of Democracy” – the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, which took fourteen years – as long as the Brooklyn Bridge, to complete. Even then, it was not complete in the way Borglum first envisioned it, but at least the presidential figures were complete from the neck up. Borglum’s unexpected death in March 1941 and the gathering war clouds brought the project to an unceremonious close. Not to be outdone by the “Four White Fathers,” Lakota Sioux Chief Henry Standing Bear asked a Mount Rushmore alumnus – master sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, to carve the figure of Crazy Horse onto a nearby mountain. He chose well, for the work started in 1948 and is still on-going at Thunderhead Mountain, site of the Crazy Horse Memorial, which will dwarf Mount Rushmore when completed, sometime in the future.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

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