When folk say a decision is cast in stone they normally mean it’s going to be around for a while, and certainly an American with the unlikely name of Gutzom Borgium had that in mind when he immortalized four famous presidents on the side of Mount Rushmore. Of course it wasn’t always called that, and inevitably there is a smart lawyer floating somewhere in the background.
The tale begins back in 1882 when an Amerindian lad named Black Elk fell ill and had a vision that took him to the center of the earth where he discovered the key to life and the path to his people’s freedom. The U.S. Army saw things differently and by the time they were done, the peak the Black Elk people called Six Grandfathers had acquired the handle of Slaughterhouse Rock which wasn’t very nice.
Black Elk and another Older Elk.
In 1885 New York attorney Charles E. Rushmore airbrushed the memory out when he jokingly named the mountain after himself while on an expedition hunting for tin. According to a local rancher the name stuck and ‘just for the hell of it’ the locals adopted the name. The Amerindian folk hanging in there were less impressed.
Sometime in the 1930’s a local historian decided it would be a nice idea to carve some faces in the mountainside and get some tourists in. She figured on these being the Oglala Chief Red Cloud, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Lewis and Clark who opened up Louisiana and trekked to the Pacific Coast. For this they needed money – lots of it – and this came at the cost of agreeing with Senator Peter Norbeck that the faces should be of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, on account of their role in preserving the Republic and expanding its territory.
Get that rock out of his nose.
The job took five years ending 1941. The rock was kinda tough, the money was drying up and the war was looming, so they ditched the idea of carving them from the waste up, in favor of just the faces (although if you look carefully you can see George Washington’s torso pegged out below). At the peak of the project there were 400 men chiseling away and nobody fell down and died.
The project was however not without its glitches. Jefferson was supposed to be to the left of Washington but the rock turned out crumbly and he ended up without a nose. Gutzom Borgium tore up the rock with a stick of dynamite or twenty, and squeezed him in between Washington and Roosevelt, so now you know why they are in such a cozy huddle.
Many folk in the nature park below don’t even know about the vault cut seventy-feet deep into the rock behind the faces. If they did, and they were able to get inside they would discover sixteen porcelain tablets containing the founding statements of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, not to mention the history of the nation and the presidents cast in stone.