"It started as an idea to draw sightseers."
We were surprised to read this sentence in the National Park Service's brochure for the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Patriotism, the historical significance of the figures, and the eventual tribute to the sculptor and his team may not have been the motives of the initial planners, but that changed over the course of the construction of this monument.
Even our first glimpse of the monument from the Avenue of Flags was impressive. The walkway leading to the Grand View Terrace at Mount Rushmore was built for the bicentennial in 1976 and consists of 14 columns, each having 4 flags (for every state, the District of Columbia, and five territories).
From the Terrace, we could see the Amphitheater and its stage, which features nightly Ranger talks and lighting ceremonies and annual naturalization ceremonies, among other events.
In 1998, several buildings, including the amphitheater, a museum/theater, bookstore, and gift shop were added to the complex.
We looked at the faces of the four Presidents repre-sented, noting the accomplish-ments of Washington ("Father of our Country"), Jefferson (author of the Declaration of Independence and overseer of the expansion of the country via the Louisiana Purchase), Theodore Roosevelt (for guiding the 20th century role of the United States in world affairs), and Lincoln (for preserving the Union).
We were struck by the massive size of this 14-year project shaped by sculptor Gutzon Borglum into a colossal memorial. A small village of supply shops for the workforce of 400 men and buildings for storage and repairs was established atop the mountain.
It was a beautiful morning, and we took time to study the faces, focusing on some details of the sculptures themselves.
For example, we noticed one thing we had not noticed before--the lapels on Washington's sculpture.
We also noticed the eyes and the direction of each figure's gaze. We learned that the sculptor kept a spire 20 inches long to represent the pupil. With a flat, polished surface that reflected the light, the eye was clearly visible. Jefferson's eyes, in particular, presented the most visible pupils.
Looking closely at the bridge of Roosevelt's nose, we saw a portion of eyeglasses, and under his right eye (the viewer's left) is a ridge formed in the granite to represent a portion of the eyeglasses' frame. With Lincoln, it was the form of his beard that we studied.
In the museum, there were plaster sculptures that were 1/12 the height of the 80-foot faces on the mountain. The distance from a central point on each figure's head to the point where a plumb line touched the plaster sculpture was converted to 12 times the distance on the 80-foot mountain sculpture to a similar point on the sculpture. This would guide the placement of explosives on the granite.
We were amazed to learn that about 98% of the sculpture work was completed by explosives and only a small amount by hammer and chisel.
"Until the wind and the rain alone shall wear them away." Those are the famous words Sculptor Gutzon Borglum used to describe the length of time his most famous work will endure.