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Is President Barack Obama Bound for Mount Rushmore?

Posted: 11/19/2012 5:18 pm

It seems every week or so, a political pundit or newspaper columnist, metaphorically speaking, propels the president to Mt. Rushmore status. In fact, Mount Rushmore and Mr. Obama are invoked so frequently in the same sentence that I began to wonder if in fact there is a movement in place to chisel the 44th president on the South Dakota mountainside.

Aside from a few Facebook pages and other minor petition drives on the Internet, there doesn't appear to be any major Barack on Rushmore movement.

And for good reason.

According to the U.S. National Parks, there's simply no room for any more additions to Mount Rushmore. Besides, the rock that surrounds the sculpted faces is not suitable for additional carving. David Barna, chief spokesman of the National Park Service, informs me that when Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of Mount Rushmore died in 1941, his son Lincoln Borglum closed the project and indicated that no more carvable rock existed.

Since 1989, the National Park Service has worked with RESPEC, a rock mechanics engineering firm, to study the structural stability of the sculpture and to install rock block monitoring devices that assure long-term preservation of the sculpture. "RESPEC supports our long held belief,'' Barna says, "that no other rock near the sculpted faces is suitable for additional carving.'' RESPEC additionally believes that if additional work were undertaken it is possible that exposing new surfaces could result in major instabilities within the existing carving.

Aside from the structural barriers, the Mount Rushmore National Memorial strongly believes the four presidential figures in place in the Black Hills of South Dakota and the ideals and meaning for which it was originally founded is fully representative without any new additions. As Barna explains it, Mount Rushmore "is one man's artistic interpretation, and a tribute to that period of our nation's history. The National Park Service takes the position that death stayed the hand of the artist and the work is complete in its present form.''

Despite the rock solid evidence that any additions to Mount Rushmore simply aren't in the cards, that hasn't kept some organizations from continuing to plead their case. Grover G. Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and chairman of the Reagan Legacy Project has been a strong supporter of the [Ronald] Reagan-on-Rushmore movement, even though he didn't originate the movement.

Responding through an email, Mr. Norquist's was told there actually is enough space for another sculpture. "My preference'', Norquist writes, "has always been to remove the statist Teddy Roosevelt and put Reagan there.'' 

Though he would love to have President Reagan added to Mount Rushmore, Mr. Norquist's real goal is to have something named after Reagan in each county in the United States. With 3,077 counties in the country, there are approximately 100 structures of some kind named after Reagan. "There is talk'', Norquist tells me, "of naming the highway to Rushmore after Mr. Reagan.''

The Reagan Legacy Project was largely responsible for persuading Congress in 1998 to rename Washington National Airport, Reagan National in honor of the 40th U.S. president. The same organization continues to try to get the U.S. Treasury Department to have Reagan placed on $10 and $20 bills.

In addition to efforts to get Mr. Reagan added to Mount Rushmore, other names that have been suggested over the years, include: John Wayne, Elvis Presley, Mickey Mouse, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lou Rawls, Larry Bird, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and the ninth president of the United States, William Henry Harrison, the first president from the Whig party.

The idea for Mount Rushmore was born in 1923, when South Dakota state historian Doane Robinson thought the "national scenery'' needed something spectacular to lure tourists to South Dakota. "Something of special interest to make it impressive'' Robinson thought.

After Gutzon Borglum, the Danish-American artist and sculptor was selected, he initially began exploring the Needles of the Black Hills of South Dakota, but found the area too weathered and the rock much too brittle for carving. Borglum was then told about Mount Rushmore. As soon as he stood on the crest of the mountain towering 6,200 feet above sea level, near the isolated mining town of Keystone South Dakota, he reportedly cried out "Here is the place!" American history shall march along that skyline."

A Footnote: Mount Rushmore was originally known to the Lakota Sioux tribe as "Six Grandfathers.'' The mountain was subsequently renamed after Charles E. Rushmore, a prominent New York lawyer, during an expedition in 1885.

Gutzon Borglum's idea was to create a symbol of the expanse of the American West. Sculpting the images of celebrated western figures like Buffalo Bill, Lewis & Clark, and Sacagawea were originally considered before a special commission was established who insisted on U.S. presidents because they best represented the "foundation, expansion and preservation" of the United States.

In the early stages, only the images of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were to be sculpted; but Borglum later extended it to include Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, because in his mind, adding Lincoln and TR would make the Mount Rushmore project a unique American story. Borglum was such an admirer of Lincoln, that he named his son after him. And he was actually a personal friend of Roosevelt and always admired his passion and love of the west.

Borglum believed America's greatness was linked to the expanse of the national domain events, particularly the west, most prominent among them was the Louisiana Purchase, the admission of Texas, and the acquisition of Florida, California, Oregon, Alaska, and the Canal Zone. All of these significant events were realized under Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt.

So Mount Rushmore, in the end, wasn't so much a tribute to the greatness of these four presidents as much as it was a tribute to what they represented in expanding the United States into what it is today and representing American ideals. It was Borglum's hope that Mount Rushmore, the "Shrine of Democracy'' would stand the test of time much like the Pyramids of ancient Egypt and the Statue of Liberty as an embodiment of what America represented.

Despite the celebration of American ideals on Mount Rushmore couched in America's mission of Manifest Destiny, Native Americans have long considered the myth of Manifest Destiny to be nothing more than a shameless disguise for American imperialism.

Mount Rushmore used to be known as the sacred site of Paha Sapa, holy mountains where ceremonies were held for the spirits of dead warriors; and where others meditated and prayed for guidance from the Great Spirit. It was also the area which was originally intended to belong to American Indians forever, as stipulated in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. But once General George Armstrong Custer discovered gold there in 1874, the Fort Laramie Treaty was soon invalidated and the Lakota forced to relocate to other reservations.

Leaders of the United Native Americans and the American Indian movement occupied the site behind Mount Rushmore in the early 1970's, voicing their protest and calling for the return of their rightful land and an end to institutionalized racism in South Dakota.

Mount Rushmore Fast Facts:

• Calvin Coolidge created the Mount Rushmore Commission in 1927 to build the monument, oversee its administration and provide maintenance of the sculpture.

• The Mount Rushmore sculpture cost $989,992.32; 85 percent of the project was paid for by the federal government.

• Mount Rushmore took 14 years to build: October 4, 1927 - October 31, 1941

• The estimated erosion rate is 1 inch every 10,000 years.

• Mount Rushmore is named after Charles E. Rushmore, a New York City Attorney

• Mount Rushmore is 5,725 Feet (1,745 meters) high.

• Each face is 60 feet (18 m) high.

• Each nose is 20 feet (6 m) long.

• Each eye is 11 feet (3.4 m) wide.

• Each mouth is 18 feet (5.5 m) wide.

• If their entire bodies were carved, each president would be 465 feet (142 m) tall.

• There were no deaths or major accidents in the 14 years of work. By the end of the project, workers had removed 1.5 million tons (1.36 million t) of granite from the mountain.

• Nearly 500,000 tons of stone were blasted from Mount Rushmore to care the four heads.

• In 1937 Congress passed a bill, calling for an image of Susan B. Anthony to be carved beside the four presidents, but Congress provided money only for the four heads that had been planned. In the end, it was determined that there was no room on the mountain for another head.

• The faces of the presidents were finished one by one, Washington in 1930, Jefferson in 1936, Lincoln in 1937 and Roosevelt in 1939.

• Borglum once considered carving a short history of the United States on a tablet beside the figures, but he dropped that idea. This "tablet" would have been the record of American expansion through the acquisition of territory.

• The monument is featured in one of the most famous scenes in movies: the chase in Alfred Hitchcock's 1959 thriller, "North by Northwest with Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint who actually were not on the mountain but on a Rushmore reproduction in a Hollywood studio.

• On July 4, 1991, President George H.W. Bush officially dedicated Mount Rushmore.

• Mount Rushmore National Memorial is visited by nearly three million people each year.

First posted on The Morning Delivery.

 

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