Sunday, June 28, 2009

Mount Rushmore and Other Mountain Whittling

After spending a night in Wall, South Dakota, Ana and I decided to check out Mount Rushmore. In case you're the one person who's never heard of it, Mount Rushmore National Monument is a mountain that was carved into the likenesses of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.

The sculpture was designed and supervised by Gutzon Borglum, a sculptor who had already gained notoriety by making a number of monuments around the world to include Stone Mountain in Georgia. He quit that project when he started butting heads with the financial backers (including the Ku Klux Klan among others), but had perfected all of the methods he would need in order to make Mount Rushmore possible.

He originally planned on carving only Washington and Lincoln into the mountain, but later added Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt to the plan. Per his design, the 60-foot tall heads were only a small part of what would have been four figures from the waist up. Instead, Borglum died at age 54 and left his son to finish what he could with the funding they had left. The money ran out in October of 1941 and with the onset of the US involvement in World War II there was no hope of increasing funding.

Here's a picture of Borglum working on a scale model of what the mountain was intended to look like:

Despite being unfinished, it's still quite an impressive sight. Approaching from the East, this is the first view we got:

At the visitors' center, you can see the monument from the more famous angle:
Mt Rushmore

We spent quite a bit of time wandering around the visitor's center taking pictures and I learned quite a bit. The really good part is that nobody died in the making of the monument. The really screwed up part though, is that the sculptor actually put a hole in the back of Lincoln's head.* I am not making this up. Borglum's idea was to build a "Hall of Records" into the monument so that visitors could come from all over the country to this somewhat central location and view such documents as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and so on. Trouble was: he didn't run this idea past anyone (like, say, Congress) and for some reason nobody was willing to put all of our nation's most prized historical documents in a cave in South Dakota.

Even though he didn't have any support for this concept, Borglum still went ahead with the blasting and carving. He managed to rough out a 70-foot long tunnel into the mountain behind Lincoln's head. Most people don't know about this because the entrance to the tunnel can't be seen from any of the areas where visitors are allowed. Bummer.

Even though they wouldn't let us see the hole in Lincoln's head, we still had a pretty good time:

Since it was nearby and we were in a faces-carved-into-mountains mood, our next stop was the Crazy Horse memorial. We'd read mention in several places that all of the heads on Mount Rushmore would fit inside Crazy Horse's head and there was a lot of talk about all of the ways that this thing was great, so we figured it was worth checking out.

I'll admit it's probably bigger, but the way the visitor's center is laid out you can't get close enough to know for sure. This is the best picture I was able to get:
Crazy Horse1

The really irritating part is that it cost $10.00 per person to get this close. Once you've parked you car there's a massive visitor's center (read: tourist trap) where you can pay another $4.00 per person to take a bus up to the base of the mountain. Once we found this out, the whole thing started to sound like kind of a ripoff.

The reason for all of the commercialization is that the folks building the monument are making it a point to accept not one cent worth of funding from the Federal government. Given the spirit of the monument, I can understand why that matters (Crazy Horse was stabbed in the back by a white soldier) but it still seems like a lot of cash to lay out per person.

They'll need it though if they're ever going to finish the thing to the original sculptor's plan. I snapped this picture of a 1/300th scale bronze model of what the final monument will look like:

Crazy Horse2

It's only been about 50 years in progress so far, so they should be done in about a century or two at the current rate.

Leaving Crazy Horse, Ana and I wound our way through the Black Hills back to I-90 and points West. We ended up looping through a bit of Wyoming and ended up in Billings, Montana for the night. There I dreamed of one day carving my own face into the side of a mountain somewhere.** Because "why not?"

More to come, stay tuned...

*In case you didn't know, Lincoln was shot in the back of the head.

**I would use lasers. I don't have time for that "dynamite and jackhammers" BS.

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