KEYSTONE, South Dakota—A soft wind blew across the Grand View Terrace of Mount Rushmore National Memorial, and a shiver ran up my spine.
For millions of Americans visiting for the first time, like me, this is hallowed ground—liberty and sacrifice carved into the timeless mountain.
“It gives you a tingle,” said Doug Alford of Texas, waxing proudly on the observation deck 150 feet below the monument.
“I’m inspired by what people used to do. This [monument] is as impressive as skyscrapers they built in the 20s.”
As we continued gazing at the tall sculpture, marveling at the extraordinary talent and engineering that went into building it, Alford lamented that the country he once knew is no longer the same.
Today, the people seem ready to go to war over culture and politics. We see the great American spirit fading into the ether of History across a national divide that grows wider by the day.
America’s glory days—”those days are gone,” Alford said.
But Mount Rushmore abides.
On the eve of the 21st anniversary of the Islamist terror attacks of Sept. 11, an estimated 2,500 people would visit Mount Rushmore to see America’s four greatest presidents—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln—memorialized in granite.
The larger-than-life figures soar above the green spires of ponderosa pine and arid, rocky landscape, where hawks and eagles fly.
“It’s amazing,” observed Alford’s wife, Cindy. “I’ve seen it on TV but it’s pretty cool to see it upfront.”
Sculptor Gutzon Borglum, Mount Rushmore’s creator, had envisioned a lasting monument that would speak to the ages.
He proclaimed: “Let us place there, carved high, as close to heaven as we can, the words of our leaders, their faces, to show posterity what manner of men they were. Then breathe a prayer that these records will endure until the wind and the rain alone shall wear them away.”
Work on the monument took 14 years, from 1927 to 1941, when Borglum died. The project would cost around $1 million to complete, and $56 million to renovate in the 1990s. It took around 400 workers to build the monument, blasting 450,000 tons of rock from the mountain.
By Allan Stein