Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Presidential monument

Mount Rushmore is an American icon: a testament to big ideas and perseverance. For South Floridians, it’s also probably the best-known feature of South Dakota’s Black Hills, and it’s where you sent me on Labor Day.

I wasn’t alone. The national monument gets about 3 million visitors per year, and plenty of them had turned up on this holiday.

Among them were a group of schoolmates meeting up for a weekend, along with wives and girlfriends: Greg Woods and Amelia Elomier of Denver, Jody and Matt Michael and Clay and Holly Schulte of Walker, Iowa. Some had been when they were kids, or even just a few years ago; for others it was a first-time visit.

“Until you’re here, it doesn’t sink in,’’ said Matt Michael. “There’s a lot more to do than just look at the mountain.’’

The very scale of the carvings is amazing. The faces stand 62 feet tall on a granite mountain, and on a ranger tour I learned that Jefferson had been completed and was later erased and moved to his current position.

The idea of the monument came from a local historian in 1924, who had heard of mountain carvings in Stone Mountain, Ga., and thought a tribute to Western heros this would be a good way to get visitors to the Black Hills. Sculptor Gutzon Borglum transformed the idea into a tribute to four American presidents of his own choosing: Washington, for leading the birth of the country; Lincoln, for preservation of the union; Jefferson, for his expansion of the country through the Louisiana Purchase; and Roosevelt, for his love of the outdoors and the rights of the common man.

A few juicy stats: Building the monument took 14 years. Each day the workmen climbed 760 steps with 65-pound jackhammers; at the top they were then lowered on cables. Pay ranged from 45 cents per hour to $1.25 per hour – which was pretty good during the Depression. Over 450,000 tons of rock were removed during the carving, which was never quite finished due to World War II. Not a single person was killed in the effort.

Photos: Top, Mount Rushmore's Avenue of Flags; center, Jane at Mount Rushmore. Above, schoolmates (from left) Greg Woods, Amelia Elomier, Jody Michael, Matt Michael, Holly Schulte, Clay Schulte.

No comments: