I guess you haven’t been to Mount Rushmore.
I’m not joking around. This place is amazing! The son of immigrants collaborated with a state tourism official to CARVE A MOUNTAIN into portraits of great presidents. America!
Here’s what the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, had to say about the monument:
I want, somewhere in America, on or near the Rockies, the backbone of the Continent, so far removed from succeeding, selfish, coveting civilizations, a few feet of stone that bears witness, carries the likeness, the dates, a word or two of the great things we accomplished as a Nation, placed so high it won’t pay to pull them down for lesser purposes.
I don’t know if that’s the kind of thing we go for as a nation anymore. We can’t agree on “the great things we accomplished as a nation.” Some of us think sincere love of country is tacky and wrong-headed, and others think any national self-criticism is disloyal. Some compare one president to Hitler, and others mock the next one as a dictatorial “dear leader” for giving a speech to schoolchildren about hard work and responsibility.
I wish we were better at this stuff, because I love huge monuments to our national character. But I suppose that contentiousness is also part of the national character, so here we are.
And here I was, enjoying Mount Rushmore the other day.
Borglum, who had worked on a large scale before at the Confederate shrine at Stone Mountain, Georgia, designed and oversaw the production of the great monument at the request of South Dakota state historian Doane Robinson. He chose the four presidents to represent “the founding, expansion, preservation, and unification of the United States.” Construction began in 1927, and provided many much-needed construction jobs throughout the 1930s.
Borglum lived to see the individual dedications of each of the presidential visages, but, like Moses, he never got to the promised land. Seven months after his death in March of 1941, funding trickled off, in part because of the approach of war. The presidential faces were declared complete as they stood, but Borglum’s original design called for more detailed below-the-neck: Check out Lincoln’s unfinished hand, which should have been rounded off and attached to a wrist and arm.
After a pleasant afternoon visit, I returned at night for the lighting ceremony. I sat in the amphitheater facing the monument, which is kept completely dark. If you think Mount Rushmore itself is over the top, I advise you to stay away from this ceremony. On the night I attended, the program began with a park ranger walking out on stage and reciting — verbatim — a sentimental old Red Skelton bit about the meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance. Then the whole audience stood, faced the flag, and recited the Pledge of Allegiance itself.
Next, we watched a long video about the four presidents on the face of the mountain, and their grand meaning for the country. It ended with “America the Beautiful” sung over a montage of images include ticker-tape parades, little-league games, and the like. Then, very slowly, the lights came on. I think maybe I say “ooooh” out loud. It was dramatic! And beautiful! And it was very cold out. We stood and sang the national anthem. Have you ever sung the national anthem with a big group of strangers in the dark? I recommend it.
Then the ranger asked everyone in the audience who had served in the military to come stand on the stage, and probably 40 or 50 people filed down. The ranger lowered the flag, four veterans folded it, and then she asked everyone on the stage to file past her, touch the flag, and say their name and branch into the microphone. It was getting colder outside, but the time passed quickly. We all clapped, and then that was that. We filed out of the amphitheater, some of us stopped by the gift shop, and then we drove a few miles back to our motels and went to sleep in the middle of America.