A Really Big set of Faces


Member Rating 5 out of 5 by catsholiday on July 10, 2011


Tourism is South Dakota's second-largest industry and Mount Rushmore is its top tourist attraction. Every year around three million visitors visit this impressive sight.

This amazing rock sculpture is a National Monument which was completed in 1941 so is celebrating its 70 years anniversary this year 2011. The idea for this monument was originally conceived as something of interest to bring visitors out west to South Dakota. This huge carving took nearly fourteen years from 1927 to its completion in 1941.

GUTZON BORGLUM:
In 1924 the sculptor Gutzon Borglum was invited to the Black Hills area to confirm that the carving could be achieved on the mountain. The original idea was for a carving of Old West heroes but Borglum preferred the idea of these four presidents who had each contributed to the history of the nation.

Borglum chose the south easterly facing granite rock for his carving so that the faces would be illuminated by the sun. He certainly chose well as when the sun is shining it does indeed show the faces off so that all the details can be clearly seen.

He was obviously a fairly determined character and not only did he get his way with the faces chosen and the site but he also insisted that people should never be charged to visit the carving. However there is a charge for parking the car of $11 which is not too bad really and the ‘America the Beautiful’ National parks season ticket does work here. Borglum was already in his sixties when the work was begun so no spring chicken.

He was assisted by 400 workers and quite a bit of cleverly used explosives. Sadly he died before it was completed and the work was finished by his son.

WHY THESE FOUR PRESIDENTS?
"The purpose of the memorial is to communicate the founding, expansion, preservation, and unification of the United States with colossal statues of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt." Gutzon Borglum

George Washington who was president from 1732 to 1799 was chosen to represent the struggle for Independence of the American nation - FOUNDING.
Thomas Jefferson who was president from1743 to 1826 was chosen as the representative of the idea of government by the people - EXPANSION
Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1865 is best known for being the president when slavery was abolished so he represents the idea of equality – UNIFICATION
Theodore Roosevelt president from 1858 to1919 represents the nation moving into the 20th century and the hanging role of the United States in world affairs. - PRESERVATION

SOME FACTS OF INTEREST:
The sheer size of this carving makes it the largest monument in the world.

The faces are of such a size that to fit on a body to scale, the body would have to be of a man 465 feet tall.
South Dakota is well above sea level and this monument stands at 5,500 feet above sea, level, higher than any point in the UK.

Thomas Jefferson’s face was originally started on George Washington's right but after 18 months of work Borglum was not happy with it and Jefferson’s face was dynamited off and carved on the other side.

No one died while building Mount Rushmore.
The cost for this amazing work of art was $989,992.32.

Borglum died only months before its completion and the project was finished by his son.



OUR VISIT:
We arrived reasonably early and as the day was beautiful and bright we saw the monument from some distance away. As we got closer we followed the signs and arrived at the gate where we showed our ‘America the Beautiful’ card to pay for the car park. We then walked following signs towards the actual monument.

You approach the monument viewing point through a sort of avenue of columns and state flags. The columns each had information about when the state joined the nation and then the flag flew above. This meant that you got different views as you got closer to the end wall where you then got a clear uninterrupted view of the whole monument. This spot is called the Grand View Terrace and it is indeed aptly named as the view is quite awe inspiring. Not being American I had no great patriotic feelings but I couldn’t help but be impressed by the sheer size of the monument. I was also very impressed by the detail in the carving.

Considering a lot of blasting was done we were thinking how awful it would have been had they nearly finished one face and the blast accidently chipped off the nose or something.

After admiring the sculpted heads from the Grand View Terrace we walked down the stairs to the Lincoln Borglum Museum and the Visitor’s Centre. There were stairs either side as well as lifts for those who might need them. At this level we also found a book shop and the amphitheatre.

We had a welcome sit in the cinema area where a short 15 minute film takes you through the background of the monument. It describes the history about the reason for the site, position and who was going to be carved. It explains how the carving was done with some old film footage and old photographs of the work in progress.

Having watched the film we wandered around the displays and read the information and explanations. It really made you appreciated the work that was involved. There were quotes from people who had worked on the carving. They described hanging from ropes for hours on end and being covered in dust. It all sounded pretty awful to me, the idea of hanging from a tiny rope platform for hours a day high above rocks would be bad enough but to be hacking away at dusty rocks with a huge heavy drill thingie as well really would not appeal.



I suppose these men were just happy to be working as when this activity was taking place on the mountainside in the mid west many in America were struggling through the Depression years. Borglum is quoted as saying; "Don’t say I can’t on this work. The I can’ts are unknown in the world of work and unremembered in history". He certainly wasn’t an "I can’t" and nor were these workers.

These individual workers are also not forgotten in history either as there was a large display listing all the people who had worked on this mountain carving in the Lincoln Borglum Centre and rightly so as everyone of those men contributed something to the carving. I was quite touched by this huge list of people and would be very proud to see my relative’s name written up in history like this so it was a very nice touch.

It was with a sense of amazement that we walked around reading the information, looking at the displays and being mind blown by the photographs and the size of the drills that the men had to be hauled up on the pulleys with. I don’t think I could lift one never mind hold it to drill accurately into granite for hours every day. They must have had muscles of steel.

The Sculptor’s Studio is also an interesting visit and here you can see scaled down sculptures of the heads. The heads are one twelfth of the size of those on the mountain so that 1" on the model is 1foot on the mountain. So you can see that the model heads are not exactly tiny. You see how the models are transferred on to the mountain and the lines drawn, how the blasts were followed by more accurate carving.

During our visit we learned how they maintain the monument with constant repair work of any cracks and weaknesses that appear so that the monument looks as good today as when it was completed seventy years ago. Weathering and erosion could do great damage despite the fact that the rock is granite because it has been blasted and carved it has been weakened and so it is vital that this repair work using some sort of resin mixed with rock takes place. I had no idea about this and thought that the rock was just a good solid rock and would last for years without any care.

WHAT DID I THINK?
I was really very impressed almost more with the exhibition than with the monument itself. That sounds strange but when you see something that looks exactly like all the pictures you have ever seen of it somehow the impact is a bit lost. However once I saw the exhibition and learned how this was achieved I looked at it with renewed insight and was more able to truly appreciate the achievement that this sculpture is.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
13000 Highway 244
Keystone, South Dakota, 57751
(605) 574-3171

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