Mount Rushmore National Memorial – Keystone, South Dakota
Updated: Aug 19
Every American should visit Mount Rushmore at least once to appreciate the sacrifices and contributions made by some of the great leaders that built America. This memorial is a great icon of the American history. Mount Rushmore is South Dakota’s main tourist attraction. You wonder why the state’s motto is “Great Faces, Great Places”? You can coincide your visit to this park with other parks such as Badlands National Park or Wind Cave National Park. The monument is located in western South Dakota just a short distance outside of Rapid City, the major town in that part of the state.
The park was named after Charles E. Rushmore, a New York attorney who did prospecting and land title investigations in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Before that time the mountain had no formal name although it was known as "Six Grandfathers", or “Cougar Mountain” to the Lakota Sioux.
It was said that Rushmore was deeply impressed with the hills and asked the men who were with him for its name. One of them spoke up and said, “We will name it now, and name it Rushmore Peak.” The United States Board of Geographic Names officially recognized the name “Mount Rushmore” in June 1930.
In 1923, Doane Robinson, the State Historian of South Dakota, known today as the “Father of Mount Rushmore”, initiated the idea of carving figures of famous Americans on the mountain in the Black Hills. This was to create a tourist attraction for visitors from around the world to South Dakota. Famous sculptor Gutzon Borglum, 57 years old, was contacted and agreed to undertake the project. Peter Norbeck, U.S. Senator from South Dakota, sponsored the project and secured federal funding.
THE FOUR PRESIDENTS
The original plan was to feature American western heroes, but Borglum believed that the sculpture needs broader appeal and recommended the four presidents we see today. They were chosen to represent the nation’s birth, growth, development and preservation, which were the most important aspects of American history.
The monument commemorates four Presidents - George Washington (1st President), Thomas Jefferson (3rd President), Abraham Lincoln (16th President) and Theodore Roosevelt (26th President). Before you reach the main part of the park, you will see the a first view of the head of George Washington, one of the Founding Father of the United States.
Today, the memorial attracts nearly three million tourists annually. The visitor center and related facilities that we see today were not part of the original construction - they were completed in 1998. It is a beautiful park with amphitheater, museum and ample parking (you have to pay for parking but admission to the monument is free).
THE AVENUE OF FLAGS
The Avenue of Flags, 56 in all, represents the 50 states, one district, three territories, and two commonwealths of the United States of America. The avenue was initially established as part of the celebration of the United States’ Bicentennial in 1976. The flags are arranged in alphabetical order with the names listed below each flag.
The sculptures of the four presidents were carved on the side of the granite mountain by 400 people using dynamite and various excavation tools. To remove precise amounts of rock, 90% of the mountain was carved using dynamite, a very dangerous job for the workers but there were no fatalities. Each head measures 60 feet high. The work took place from October 1927 to October 1941. If you like to view the sculptures at night, there is a lighting program held from August 1 to Labor Day, from 8:00pm to 10:00pm.
Visit the Lincoln Borglum Museum where a short film provides an introduction to the memorial every twenty minutes. There are also interactive exhibits and bookstore.
Gutzon Borglum and James Lincoln Borglum
At the park is a bust sculpture of Gutzon Borglum, son of Danish immigrants. Gutzon died days before his 74th birthday, on March 6, 1941, before the project was finished. But his son, Lincoln, who worked as his father's right hand man, continued his work until it was completed. Lincoln served as the first superintendent at Mount Rushmore from 1941 to 1943.
One of Gutzon Borglum's many works was a colossal bust of Abraham Lincoln, carved out of a large block of marble. Today, you will find this bust in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.
Lincoln Borglum was named after his father's favorite president, Abraham Lincoln. He was a sculptor, photographer, author and engineer. One of his best-known works was a bust of his father, which is located outside the visitor center of Mt. Rushmore. He died of a heart attack in 1986 at age 74.
If you want to see different views of the four presidents, then take the Presidential Trail. It's an easy half-mile loop trail that meanders through pine trees. You will also pass by the rubble left behind from blasting and carving the mountain.
Mt. Rushmore is largely composed of smooth fine-grained granite. The National Park Service is overseeing the ongoing conservation of the site, where wind, rain, snow erodes the rocks and frost wedging expands the cracks.