A little over a year before my mother passed away, she took an epic road trip to see some of the sites in America that had been on her travel list. She wanted to see Deadwood, visit Boot Hill, Casey’s General Store, The Corn Palace, the Crazy Horse Monument, Badlands National Park and Black Hills National Forest, Wall Drug Store, and the primary reason for the trip — Mount Rushmore National Memorial.
When she couldn’t get anyone to make the two-week roadtrip with her, my then 70-something-year-old mother planned and executed the trip on her own. She drove every mile of it herself and documented it along the way with photos and a daily travel blog at DonnaIsATrip.com. Her only companion was a little stuffed bulldog (dubbed “Tiny Clayton”) she took along as a mascot because her beloved English Bull Dog (Clayton) had passed away a decade earlier.
Yes, my mom was pretty much a bad ass.
Mom got some great photos of Mount Rushmore (one is featured in the header graphic of this article) and it got me wondering about the sculpture, the artist, and why he chose those four Presidents out of all the other options at that time.
Mount Rushmore is located in South Dakota north of Custer State Park in Black Hills National Forest. The land got its name by way of a New York lawyer who was traveling to the Black Hills in 1884 to inspect mining claims. The the easterner asked a local man the name of the mountain he was told it never had a name before — but from that day on it would be come known as Rushmore Peak (and later Rushmore Mountain aka Mount Rushmore) named by the lawyer, Charles E. Rushmore.
Sculptor Gutzon Borglum began the monument project in 1927 and completed it in 1941. The original design called for the four presidents to be featured from head-to-waist, but insufficient funding brought the stone carving to a stop after the completion of the 60-foot high heads (good thing he started at the heads and went down rather than starting at the waists and carved up!).
You can probably name the four featured presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln — but do you know why they were ones selected for the sculpture? Apparently the decision was left entirely in the hands of Borglum to choose which four faces would represent the first 150 years of American history.
Being the first president, Borglum chose Washington to be the most prominent face on the monument to represent the Birth of a new nation.
As well as being the key author of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson was the third president and purchased the Louisiana Territory from France which effectively doubled the size of the country and added land that would eventually become part (or all) of 15 additional states. Borglum selected Jefferson to represent the Growth of our country.
Roosevelt served as 26th president as America entered the 20th century and experienced a period of rapid growth. He played an important role in negotiating the development of the Panama Canal, became known as the “trust buster” for his efforts to assure the rights of the common man by working to end large corporate monopolies. Roosevelt was chosen to represent Development of the USA.
The United States arguably underwent its greatest challenge during the 16th presidency. Lincoln possessed a firm conviction that slavery must be abolished, but saw keeping the union together as his sacred duty. Borglum chose Lincoln as the fourth face in order to represent the Preservation of the United States.
I have heard many discussions about which presidents should be added to Mount Rushmore if they ever decided to expand the monument. It’s a fun mental exercise and leads to some passionate discussions, but I wanted to ask you a different question today…
Who would be on your personal Mount Rushmore?
If you had to choose just four individuals who most impacted your life and influenced who you’ve become (and hope to become in the future), which people would you choose?
I liked Gutzon Borglum’s (what a great name, right??) idea of selecting individuals who represented a theme within a period of the country’s evolution: Birth, Growth, Development, and Preservation. Perhaps you might make your decisions in a similar way.
Another option might be to choose four values or personal qualities that are most important to you and make your selections based on who in your life first (or most) instilled those values in your personal development.
Or maybe you’ll make your choices based on the philosophical principals and ideas and inventions that your candidates endowed the world your grew up in and contributed to your most revered personal experiences.
I’ve struggled with my own choices to be on my monument of meaningful mortals, and it’s tough to firmly nail down a final four — especially when it would be literally carved in stone. I can get one or two very easily (and you just know my bad ass mom would be the first face up there), but as you get to number three — and especially number four — competition gets tough.
But, I’m curious…
Who would you choose?
Even if you can only decide on 2 or 3 — write them down and share them on your favorite social media platform. I’d love it if you tagged me in your post and shared a link to this article for context, but it’s not necessary — I’d just enjoy helping to honor the people who helped make you the creative and curious person you are today.
If you’re interested in learning more about Mount Rushmore and its sculptor Gutzon Borglum, I invite you to begin with the resources I used to research this article…