When master sculptor Gutzon Borglum carved Mount Rushmore, he unknowingly provided a place where Presidents Day is celebrated not just in February, but every day of the year. Since the colossal carving’s completion in 1941, millions of visitors have come to pay tribute to former presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.
Mount Rushmore was initially envisioned as a tourist destination— a simple way to bring more sight-seers into the Black Hills of South Dakota. The Memorial definitely does that, but also serves a greater purpose. America’s “Shrine of Democracy” is a true testament to the 14 years of skill and dedication shown by Sculptor Borglum and 400 workers. As you can imagine, the making of the masterpiece was a monumental task— and very dangerous. Ninety percent of the rock that had to be removed to create the stone portraits was blasted away with dynamite before the intricate facial features could be chiseled into the granite. Borglum first sketched the faces, next he cast them in plaster, and then the 1:12 scale models were transferred to the mountain (one inch on the model equaled one foot of rock). Maybe even more amazing is the modest price tag for the project— less than one million dollars top to bottom. What a bargain for a priceless national treasure!
Mr. Borglum chose to memorialize these particular four presidents for good reason: George Washington because he served as the first U.S. president; Thomas Jefferson because he authored the Declaration of Independence; Abraham Lincoln for restoring the Union and ending slavery; and Theodore Roosevelt, Borglum’s personal acquaintance, for promoting construction of the Panama Canal and economic reform. To learn more about Mount Rushmore’s history and its sculptor, begin your visit in the Lincoln Borglum Museum (named for the sculptor’s son who supervised the completion of the work after his father’s death). A film and informative displays explain the amazing story, including that the 5,725-foot granite peak was named in 1884 for Charles Rushmore, an attorney from New York.
Some of best photo opportunities for capturing the 60-foot high presidential faces are from the Avenue of the Flags. You’ll count 56 flags here— one for every state and U.S. territory. The Avenue of Flags leads from the concession building to the Grandview Terrace, another great photo spot. For a closer look at the likenesses of our country’s forefathers, hike the half-mile Presidential Trail to the base of the mountain. Stately Ponderosa pines flank the trail and you may even spot some of the 200 white shaggy mountain goats that live here. While on your walk, be sure to stop at the Sculptor’s Studio to see the models and tools used by Gutzon Borglum.
Nowhere else is South Dakota’s state slogan “Great Faces and Great Places” more evident than at Mount Rushmore National Memorial. It’s a great place to commemorate Presidents Day any time of the year!
While in the area, visit and camp at Custer State Park.