Today the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt look out over the Black Hills in South Dakota, whose pictures are carved on the granite slopes of Mount Rushmore. This unlikely landmark is a marvel of technology and attracts millions of visitors every year.
But the place casts a dark shadow. Mount Rushmore was built by a Klu Klux Klan sympathizer on land that the Sioux confiscated during a gold rush. Here are 10 little-known facts about its origins and history.
1. The Great Sioux Nation’s Lakota call this mountain Šȟpe Tŋuŋkášilaor “Six Grandfathers”.
When New York lawyer Charles E. Rushmore first viewed the landform in 1
2. Mount Rushmore’s head sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, previously worked on a giant Confederate monument.
Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and their horses are carved in Georgia’s Stone Mountain. Borglum came up with the basic concept after the daughters of the Confederation asked him to shape Lee’s head into the rock face. But on February 25, 1925, 10 years after the project started, Borglum was released after disputes with the organization. Stone Mountain was ended without his involvement; The then Vice President Spiro Agnew took part in the inauguration ceremony in 1970.
3. The idea for Mount Rushmore started with the historian of South Dakota.
Jonah LeRoy “Doane” Robinson, the official state historian of South Dakota, was intrigued by Stone Mountain and contacted Borglum in 1924. The Black Hills were already a tourist destination, but Robinson wanted a bold new draw. Turning some local geological features into a series of statues depicting western legends like Buffalo Bill Cody, Sacagawea, Red Cloud, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark sounded like a good move for Robinson. But Borglum had other ideas. He changed not only the proposed location of the monument – he chose Mount Rushmore instead of the nearby granite towers that Robinson had chosen – but also the people depicted. The sculptor believed that the site should be a “national memorial to the founders and builders of America”.
4. Gutzon Borglun liked Mount Rushmore because of its physical properties.
South Dakota is full of mountains. Why was the monument erected on this? For starters, Borglum realized that it was tough enough to withstand the rigorous sculpting process. He also liked the fact that the southeast flank of Mount Rushmore (where the faces are now) gets good sun exposure. The mountain’s fine-grained Harvey Peak granite also influenced Borglun’s choice: although the material was more difficult to carve, it eroded more slowly than the granite found on other nearby peaks.
5. Construction of Mount Rushmore began in 1927.
It officially ended on October 31, 1941. Borglum died unexpectedly in March, leaving his son Lincoln to oversee the last few months of production.
6. Eleanor Roosevelt wanted Susan B. Anthony on Mount Rushmore.
Washington’s head was the first part of the monument to be inaugurated, followed by Jeffersons, Lincoln’s, and finally Roosevelt’s. In the meantime, another Roosevelt wanted Susan B. Anthony to join her ranks. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt wrote to Borglum in 1936 asking him to take on the likeness of the prominent suffragist. A bill to back this up was presented to Congress the following year, but did not get far due to funding restrictions.
7. The construction workers used a technique called “honeycomb” to carve Mount Rushmore.
Dynamite cleared 90 percent of the unwanted rock, but some tasks were unsuitable for explosives. Once within 3 to 6 inches of the desired depth, Borglum’s workers drilled shallow holes in tightly packed rows. This trick, known as “honeycomb formation”, allowed them to remove chunks of granite with their bare hands.
8. Mount Rushmore once had its own baseball team.
During their time in Rushmore, Borglum and his son organized a baseball team made up entirely of day laborers. In 1939, the “Rushmore Drillers” had a great summer and qualified for the semi-finals of the amateur baseball tournament in South Dakota.
9. Mount Rushmore is only two counties from the geographic center of the United States.
Alaska and Hawaii became states in 1959 and moved the geographic center of the United States from Smith County, Kansas to Butte County, South Dakota. The exact location is on private land, but about 20 miles south – in the nearby town of Belle Fourche, South Dakota – is a compass-shaped monument that honors the center of America. By car, this attraction is only 79.4 miles from Mount Rushmore, the most famous location in Pennington County.
10. The last surviving Mount Rushmore carver died in 2019.
Donald “Nick” Clifford, a prominent member of these Rushmore drills, was a right-wing player and the youngest carver to ever work on the memorial. He was hired in 1938 at the tender age of 17. Clifford survived all of his staff in Mount Rushmore and died in 2019 at the age of 98.
11. Native American activists occupied Mount Rushmore in 1970.
The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 provided that the Black Hills in South Dakota, including Mount Rushmore, were reserved for indigenous peoples only. But the United States hastily redrawn the agreed boundaries when General George A. Custer found gold in the region six years later.
In 1980, the Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. government had acted illegally. According to the ruling, a compensation fund worth over $ 1 billion was provided to Sioux. The money was never collected.
Ten years before this Supreme Court decision, a group of 23 Native American activists climbed Mount Rushmore on August 29, 1970. They demanded the restoration of the country for the Sioux, defied federal regulations and set up a camp on the mountain. The demonstrators remained in operation until November when they were finally driven out by bad weather. According to Lehman Brightman, the former president of the United Native Americans Organization and one of the architects of the event, it was “the first Sioux Uprising” since Custer’s lifetime.