|Caroline gets credit for snapping this one.|
RAPID CITY, S.D. – Gutzon Borglum seemed to be sort of a mad genius with a flair for self-promotion.
In other words, he was like Bobby Valentine, but with a real mustache.
And when both men were at the top of their game, the results were magnificent.
Valentine, of course, brought the Mets to within a game of the World Series in 1999 and to the Fall Classic for the Subway Series the following year.
And Borgulm was the mastermind behind Mount Rushmore, the highlight of our epic extended family road trip to South Dakota.
Everyone has seen photos of the iconic national sculpture. I rank it with the Statue of Liberty and Daniel Chester French’s incredible work in the Lincoln Memorial on the list of the greatest statues ever.
Rushmore is very different than both of those works. Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s Liberty was hammered into copper, taken apart and shipped to the United States. French’s imposing Lincoln is 28 pieces of marble.
Borgulm, of course, oversaw the carving of Rushmore right into a mountain side over 14 years with little room for error.
I wasn’t prepared for the first glimpse. The faces are higher in the mountain than I expected.
Caroline spotted the mountain as we drove through Keystone, about three miles away. And there’s another spot on the road leading to the park where cars pull off for photos.
But the best views came from the main entrance, where visitors are greeted by a plaza of flags that opens to a main viewing area, where presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln gaze down.
It’s the prime posing spot for families and an occasional gnome.
|The rebuilt Gnome of Victory and Celebration at Rushmore.|
|All but one member of our traveling party, not counting the Gnome of Victory.|
Yes, the Gnome of Victory and Celebration was recovered enough to make the trip, battle scars and all. I also encountered a fellow University of Missouri grad, who attended while Jule and I were there.
With the morning sun reflecting off the white granite, it’s easy to see some of the fine details of the faces: The pupils in the presidents’ eyes, the hair on Lincoln’s chin and T.R.’s glasses.
|Notice the details in the eyes and beard. Now picture trying to carve those details with a jackhammer dangling in what looked like a playground swing.|
There’s a trail that took us closer to the base of the statue, with a spot for the best view of each president, a section about Indians, and a spot at the bottom where you can see some of the blasted rock, complete with marks from the drills.
The trail also takes visitors to the sculptor’s studio, where the original model still sits. Borglum intended the work to go beyond the heads, showing the presidents down to their waists.
Also on display is one of the harnesses that the carvers dangled from as they worked with large jackhammers on the faces. It looked like a playground swing.
|One of the harnesses used by the carvers.|
Among the things we learned: Borglum was brilliant and, well, difficult. But his son, Lincoln, was the assistant sculptor and in charge of the project when his father was away for long periods trying to secure funding.
Lincoln Borglum was well-liked by the crew, and was a huge baseball fan, too. The memorial sponsored a team, which was featured in the café.
|Baseball and presidents? Can this place get any better?|
Also, Jefferson started on the other side of Washington. But after 18 months of work, Borglum the elder decided that the rock there was of poor quality and ordered the face blasted off, starting anew on Washington’s left.
Because we interview employees, we learned that the park is a fun place to work, and that the Fourth of July is the busiest day of the year. “No one gets off that day,” the cashier told me.
Another worker gave us two key pieces of information.
One the way to Crazy Horse, our next stop, there is a spot on the road with a perfect spot to view George Washington’s profile.
|A friendly employee told us how to get this shot of Washington's profile.|
And, the evening lighting ceremony was not to be missed.
So most of our group returned at dusk. As darkness crept into the Black Hills, a film about the memorial and the four presidents was projected in an amphitheater.
Slowly, the lights focused on the presidents came on and Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln emerged.
|Veterans were gathered to the stage to lower the American flag as everyone sang the national anthem.|
I don’t think there were many dry eyes. It is an experience I’ll never forget.