The President placed a drill in the hands of a stocky, energetic man. The tool bit deep into granite. Thus in 1927 did Calvin Coolidge, self-conscious in a ten-gallon hat; launch the work of sculptor Gutzon Borglum upon face of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.
For 14 summer’s mountain foliage- pine, spruce, silver birch, aspen- shuddered to the blast of dynamite, the chatter of jackhammer. When the last stone fragment tumbled from the mountain, stillness settled over the valley. Carved from this Western Gibraltar stood the world’s most heroic sculpture.
“Trained but not tamed,” men said of Idaho-born Borglum. A famed disciple of Rodin in Paris, he was a many of enthusiasms. “There is not a monument in the country as big as a snuff box,” he said in 1916, America demanded “an enlarged dimension- a new scale.”
Borglum found that scale, and a challenge for all his talents, when historian D. Robinson suggested a monumental sculpture examined an exposed granite core. The south-eastern face of 5,725 foot Mount Rushmore offered greatest promise. Private funds, then Federal appropriations got the job underway.
Borglum fashioned plaster molds, measured them then dropped proportionate plumb lines from the mountaintop. Faces would be 60 feet tall, as high as a five story building. Dynamite shots probed reliable rock beneath the deeply fissured surface. Nine times Borglum remade his olds to conform to solid stone. He climbed scaffolds training miners to help him: he darted about the canyon to test the effect of shadow upon a cheek or chin.
First face to be completed was George Washington’s. Abraham Lincoln took shape, melancholy in his mission to keep America intact. Last, with a square jaw apt in granite, Theodore Roosevelt’s image evoked the vigor of the 20th century America. But Gutzon Borglum did not live to see his masterpiece complete. He died at 74, leaving seven months’ work to the son he had named for Lincoln.
“I don’t intend that it shall be just a three day tourist wonder,” Borglum once said. Tourists themselves, a million a year, testify to his success. They stop in hotels and motor courts in Rapid City and Keystone, South Dakota. In holiday mood they picnic in nearby Black Hills National Forest in the attractive restaurant at the Rushmore site itself.
They come not to gaze at a giant curiosity, but to observe a monument as large and permanent as the dream these four men made real. Some return time and again to watch morning sunlight move across the faces, to see the figures backed by a Western sunset, to attend the nightly summer ceremony in the amphitheater as floodlights whiten the granite against a black sky.
At whatever time of day, the setting inspires an inward awe. Frank Lloyd Wright left aside all his brilliant barbs when he saw Rushmore: “The noble countenances emerge as though the spirit of the mountain heard a human plan and itself became a human countenance. Vacationers, freshly conscious of the meaning of citizenship, say even more by their reflective silence.