Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is its official name, and there is quite possibly no more iconic symbol of or shrine to the American ideal of democracy than this monumental sculpture carved into the mountain that the native Lakota Sioux called Six Grandfathers. Located in heart of the South Dakota Black Hills near the town of Keystone, Mount Rushmore is such a universal symbol that it has no other nickname. There are numerous Mount Rushmore facts that continue to fascinate today, and many people can at least name the four giant (each 60 feet high) Mount Rushmore presidents depicted on the mountain face.

As it is part of the Black Hills, official ownership of Mount Rushmore remains in dispute. In 1980, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Black Hills were taken from the Sioux illegally in violation of the 1868 Treaty of Laramie. A payment of more than 100 million dollars was offered and refused by the people of the Sioux Nation who continue to insist on return of the sacred lands. Technically, ownership of this entire region, including nearby state parks, the region's caves, and even Badlands National Park are part of this land dispute.

The mountain was named Rushmore in 1885 after a New York lawyer who headed a prospecting expedition with a man named David Swanzey. This is one of the more obscure facts about Mount Rushmore National Memorial—David Swanzey was the husband of Carrie Ingalls Swanzey, who was the sister of author Laura Ingalls Wilder. More about this historic and literary connection can be learned at the Ingalls Homestead in the town of De Smet, north of Sioux Falls. Carrie Ingalls Swanzey moved to Keystone in 1911 and resided there until her death 36 years later. Her husband still has a view of the Mount Rushmore presidents as he is buried in the only cemetery with that vista.

Doane Robinson, the South Dakota State Historian, conceived the original idea of a monumental stone carving in 1923 after reading about Gutzon Borglum's carving of Stone Mountain in Georgia. He envisioned carvings of prominent Americans including Native Americans, on six of the pillars that make up the Needles rock formation in Custer State Park. The rather eccentric and larger-than-life Borglum, who was always interested in big funding, recognized that this idea was only of regional interest. He proposed a different location because of the fragile limestone consistency of the Needles and enlarged the scope of the project to encompass the four Mount Rushmore presidents—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt—to span the first 150 years of American history. Federal funding was thus secured when Congress authorized a Mount Rushmore National Memorial Commission in 1925. It was President Calvin Coolidge who insisted that, in addition to Washington, there should be two Republicans and one Democrat.

Carving on Mount Rushmore commenced in October 1927 and continued until October 1941. Borglum's son, Lincoln, completed the project after his father's death in March of that year. It was originally intended that the carving be of the presidents from the waist up, but funding allowed only for the heads. Things to do at the state's most-visited site, which attracts nearly two million visitors each year, include riding the tramway to the top, hiking along the Presidential Trail, and visiting the Lincoln Borglum Museum where you learn odd Mount Rushmore facts including the fact that 90 percent of the carving was done with dynamite. If you stay until dusk, you can watch a 30-minute program about the project followed by two inspirational hours when the monument is beautifully lit. This evening event is the culmination of the Dark of the Moon Tour during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

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