Biggest Ball of String

Our road trip adventures, quirky roadside attractions, generally in the United States or Canada (and with occasional travel off the mainland into Hawaii, Alaska, Caribbean and Europe – so far)

Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

on December 11, 2012

Once Upon a Time, there was a mountain that looked like this: 6 Grandfathers

and it was called “Six Grandfathers” by the Lakota Sioux.

In 1885, it was renamed “Mount Rushmore” after a lawyer, from New York- Charles Rushmore. Mr. Rushmore was in the Blackhills area, helping people with their mining claims.  When he asked what the name of this mountain was, to be schmoozy*, they told him that since it didn’t have a name, they’d call it Mount Rushmore.

(*Since I don’t know how “schmoozy” translates, the dictionary says “To converse casually, especially in order to gain an advantage or make a social connection.”)

The giant sculpture was an idea dreamed up by Doan Robinson, who was a South Dakota State Historian. He originally wanted to have something sculptured into the section of the mountains called the Needles, but when he invited the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, out to examine the possibilities, Borglum determined that the granite of the Needles was of poor quality and that the spires weren’t strong enough (too thin) to support the sculptures, which were going to be of famous people, “parade of Indian leaders and American explorers who shaped the frontier.”  However, Borglum chose the four Presidents, to “elevate the memorial from a regional enterprise to a national cause”. (http://www.travelsd.com/Attractions/Mount-Rushmore/History)

 Construction began in August, 1927, and ended October 31, 1941. Although I can’t tell, I guess if you are “in the know”,  it’s obvious that the carving is not finished.  Mt. Rushmore

Anyway, a couple things happened: 1) Mr. Borglum passed away on March 6, 1941, and 2) World War II started and the government funding stopped.  Lincoln Borglum (Gutzon’s son) and crew continued working on the sculpture, until the money rand out, October 31.  At that time, Lincoln ended the project, and there it continues till today. (That is, other than it’s erosion rate of approximately 1 inch every 10,000 years.)

The Presidents are, from left to right: George Washington (1st president of the United States, commander of the Revolutionary War), Thomas Jefferson (3rd president, author of the Declaration of Independence ), Theodore Roosevelt (26th president, signed legislation to establish National Parks & Monuments, supported of the completion of the Panama Canal, and personal friend of Borglum’s), and Abraham Lincoln (16th president, and previously discussed in my blog on November 17, 2012, “Springfield IL and Abraham Lincoln“).MR PC

Some interesting facts about Mount Rushmore:

  • 5,725 feet (1,745m) high in elevation
  • each head is about 60 feet (18 meters) high (approximately the height of a 6-story building – or to compare, The Great Sphinx in Egypt is just over 66 feet tall
  • the eyes are 11 feet wide each, and the pupil of each eye is a 12 inch shaft, giving the illusion of a sparkle
  • the noses are 20 feet long (except Washington’s, whose nose is 21 feet)
  • the mouth is 18 feet wide.
  • Lincoln’s mole is 16 inches across (almost the size of a basketball hoop’s diameter)

Additional details about the Presidents’ accomplishments include:

Washington:
* Coincidentally, he’s the only president who didn’t live in Washington D.C.;
* that’s his real hair! he never wore a powdered wig;
* when he was born, the Julian calendar was being used, so his birthdate was February 11, 1731 – however, in 1752, the Gregorian calendar was adopted, and he opted to acknowledge his birthdate as the equivalent date of February 22, 1732 (and why wouldn’t he? that made him a year younger!);
* he raised and loved hound dogs, some of which he named True Love, Sweet Lips, Vulcan, Madame Moose, and Drunkard;
* he supposedly once owned of the largest whiskey distiller in Virginia;
* he joined the British Royal Navy when he was 14 years old…

Jefferson:TJ
* He was known for the Louisiana Purchase, which pretty much doubled the land size of the United States;
* he commissioned the Lewis & Clark Expedition (topics for future discussions);
* he wrote his own epitaph for his tombstone, and didn’t include that he’d been President;
* from France, he brought back a recipe for vanilla ice cream, which is now in the Library of Congress (here, supposedly, is the recipe)…

 TRRoosevelt:
* He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for helping negotiate a peace treaty ending the Russo-Japanese War;
* he officially named the President’s House, “the White House” in 1901;
* he was the first President to ever fly in an airplane – in 1910, he flew in one of the Wright Brothers’ planes, for 4 minutes;
* rumor has it that he skinny-dipped in the Potomac River (apparently this discussion is in his Autobiography, in which he states, “If we swam the Potomac, we usually took off our clothes.”) He isn’t the first President to do so, either;
* even though he hated being called “Teddy”, he lent his name to a toy bear, thus the Teddy Bear was born! BEST LEGACY EVER!!

Lincoln:AL
* He was the tallest President at 6’4 (7 feet tall with his stovepipe hat on – which, by the way, he apparently used as a filing cabinet);
* an 11 year old girl wrote him a letter, recommending that he grow a beard – he did, becoming the first President with a beard;
* he was the first President photographed at his inauguration (John Wilkes Booth is actually in the background of the picture);
* a man named Edwin Booth once saved Abe’s son Robert’s life, by pulling him to safety after he’d fallen – Edwin was John Wilkes Booth’s older brother;
* he’s the only President that holds a patent – he invented a device for keeping boats buoyant in shallow water;
* he only had about 18 months of formal education – the rest was self-taught;
* he had a pet turkey named Jack

I had the privilege of meeting a man named Don “Nick” Clifford while at Mount Rushmore. He was one of the workers on Mount Rushmore from 1938-1940.

Nick was born in 1921 and grew up in the little town of Keystone. He and his 4 siblings started working at an early age to help their mother support their family.   Starting at age 7, he delivered the local paper, chopped firewood, and milked cows. By age 14, he managed the local pool hall – cleaning, running errands, selling concessions, and racking pool balls.  When he was 17 years old, he was recruited by Lincoln Borglum in 1938, to come to work at Mount Rushmore, primarily because Lincoln wanted him on their company baseball team ~ and the rest is history!

 Nick Clifford Q&A

Sunday, we’ll be en route to Rapid City, SD.

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