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Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Mount Rushmore detail view (100MP).jpg
Mount Rushmore with the sculpted heads of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln (left to right), by Gutzon Borglum
Mount Rushmore National Memorial is located in South Dakota
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Location in South Dakota
Mount Rushmore National Memorial is located in the United States
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Location in the United States
Location Pennington County, South Dakota
Nearest city Keystone, South Dakota
Area 1,278 acres (5.17 km2)
Authorized March 3, 1925
Visitors 2,074,986 (in 2020)
Governing body National Park Service
Website
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Built 1927
Architect Gutzon and Lincoln Borglum
NRHP reference No. 66000718
Added to NRHP October 15, 1966

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is centered on a colossal sculpture carved into the granite face of Mount Rushmore (Lakota: Tȟuŋkášila Šákpe, or Six Grandfathers) in the Black Hills near Keystone, South Dakota. Sculptor Gutzon Borglum created the sculpture's design and oversaw the project's execution from 1927 to 1941 with the help of his son, Lincoln Borglum. The sculpture features the 60-foot (18 m) heads of Presidents George Washington (1732–1799), Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) and Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865), as recommended by Borglum. The four presidents were chosen to represent the nation's birth, growth, development and preservation, respectively. The memorial park covers 1,278 acres (2.00 sq mi; 5.17 km2) and the actual mountain has an elevation of 5,725 feet (1,745 m) above sea level.

The sculptor and tribal representatives settled on Mount Rushmore, which also has the advantage of facing southeast for maximum sun exposure. Doane Robinson wanted it to feature American West heroes, such as Lewis and Clark, their expedition guide Sacagawea, Oglala Lakota chief Red Cloud, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Oglala Lakota chief Crazy Horse. Borglum believed that the sculpture should have broader appeal and chose the four presidents.

Peter Norbeck, U.S. senator from South Dakota, sponsored the project and secured federal funding. Construction began in 1927; the presidents' faces were completed between 1934 and 1939. After Gutzon Borglum died in March 1941, his son Lincoln took over as leader of the construction project. Each president was originally to be depicted from head to waist, but lack of funding forced construction to end on October 31, 1941.

Sometimes referred to as the "Shrine of Democracy", Mount Rushmore attracts more than two million visitors annually.

History

Six Grandfathers
Mount Rushmore before construction, circa 1905.
Gutzon Borglum's model of Mt. Rushmore memorial
A model at the site depicting Mount Rushmore's intended final design

Originally known to the Lakota Sioux as "The Six Grandfathers", the mountain was renamed after Charles E. Rushmore, a prominent New York lawyer, during an expedition in 1885. At first, the project of carving Rushmore was undertaken to increase tourism in the Black Hills region of South Dakota. After long negotiations involving a Congressional delegation and President Calvin Coolidge, the project received Congressional approval. The carving started in 1927 and ended in 1941 with no fatalities.

As Six Grandfathers, the mountain was part of the route that Lakota leader Black Elk took in a spiritual journey that culminated at Black Elk Peak. Following a series of military campaigns from 1876 to 1878, the United States asserted control over the area, a claim that is still disputed on the basis of the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie (see section "Controversy" below). Among American settlers, the peak was known variously as Cougar Mountain, Sugarloaf Mountain, Slaughterhouse Mountain, and Keystone Cliffs. It was named Mount Rushmore during a prospecting expedition by Charles Rushmore, David Swanzey (husband of Carrie Ingalls), and Bill Challis.

Historian Doane Robinson conceived the idea for Mount Rushmore in 1923 to promote tourism in South Dakota. In 1924, Robinson persuaded sculptor Gutzon Borglum to travel to the Black Hills region to ensure the carving could be accomplished. Borglum had been involved in sculpting the Confederate Memorial Carving, a massive bas-relief memorial to Confederate leaders on Stone Mountain in Georgia, but was in disagreement with the officials there.

Mount Rushmore2
Construction of the Mount Rushmore monument

The original plan was to make the carvings in granite pillars known as the Needles. However, Borglum realized that the eroded Needles were too thin to support sculpting. He chose Mount Rushmore, a grander location, partly because it faced southeast and enjoyed maximum exposure to the sun. Borglum said upon seeing Mount Rushmore, "America will march along that skyline." Congress authorized the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Commission on March 3, 1925. President Coolidge insisted that, along with Washington, two Republicans and one Democrat be portrayed.

Between October 4, 1927, and October 31, 1941, Gutzon Borglum and 400 workers sculpted the colossal 60 foot (18 m) high carvings of U.S. presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln to represent the first 130 years of American history. These presidents were selected by Borglum because of their role in preserving the Republic and expanding its territory. The carving of Mount Rushmore involved the use of dynamite, followed by the process of "honeycombing", a process where workers drill holes close together, allowing small pieces to be removed by hand. In total, about 450,000 short tons (410,000 t) of rock were blasted off the mountainside. The image of Thomas Jefferson was originally intended to appear in the area at Washington's right, but after the work there was begun, the rock was found to be unsuitable, so the work on the Jefferson figure was dynamited, and a new figure was sculpted to Washington's left.

In 1933, the National Park Service took Mount Rushmore under its jurisdiction. Julian Spotts helped with the project by improving its infrastructure. For example, he had the tram upgraded so it could reach the top of Mount Rushmore for the ease of workers. By July 4, 1934, Washington's face had been completed and was dedicated. The face of Thomas Jefferson was dedicated in 1936, and the face of Abraham Lincoln was dedicated on September 17, 1937. In 1937, a bill was introduced in Congress to add the head of civil-rights leader Susan B. Anthony, but a rider was passed on an appropriations bill requiring federal funds be used to finish only those heads that had already been started at that time. In 1939, the face of Theodore Roosevelt was dedicated.

The Sculptor's Studio – a display of unique plaster models and tools related to the sculpting – was built in 1939 under the direction of Borglum. Borglum had planned to make a secret room behind the hairline of Abraham Lincoln which was supposed to be a doorway to a chamber originally intended to hold some of America's most treasured documents but was left unfinished due to his death. Borglum died from an embolism in March 1941. His son, Lincoln Borglum, continued the project. Originally, it was planned that the figures would be carved from head to waist, but insufficient funding forced the carving to end. Borglum had also planned a massive panel in the shape of the Louisiana Purchase commemorating in eight-foot-tall gilded letters the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, Louisiana Purchase, and seven other territorial acquisitions from Alaska to Texas to the Panama Canal Zone. In total, the entire project cost US$989,992.32. Unusually for a project of such size, no workers died during the carving.

Side view of Washington at Mount Rushmore, SD IMG 20140311 0001
Side view of George Washington from rocky terrain at Mount Rushmore
Rushmoreentrance
Entrance to the site

On October 15, 1966, Mount Rushmore was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A 500-word essay giving the history of the United States by Nebraska student William Andrew Burkett was selected as the college-age group winner in a 1934 competition, and that essay was placed on the Entablature on a bronze plate in 1973. In 1991, President George H. W. Bush officially dedicated Mount Rushmore.

In a canyon behind the carved faces is a chamber, cut only 70 feet (21 m) into the rock, containing a vault with sixteen porcelain enamel panels. The panels include the text of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, biographies of the four presidents and Borglum, and the history of the U.S. The chamber was created as the entrance-way to a planned "Hall of Records"; the vault was installed in 1998.

Ten years of redevelopment work culminated with the completion of extensive visitor facilities and sidewalks in 1998, such as a Visitor Center, the Lincoln Borglum Museum, and the Presidential Trail. Maintenance of the memorial requires mountain climbers to monitor and seal cracks annually. Due to budget constraints, the memorial is not regularly cleaned to remove lichens. However, on July 8, 2005, Alfred Kärcher GmbH, a German manufacturer of pressure washing and steam cleaning machines, conducted a free cleanup operation which lasted several weeks, using pressurized water at over 200 °F (93 °C).

Ecology

Black Hills, Mount Rushmore National Park
The Black Hills opposite Mount Rushmore.
Aerial view of Mount Rushmore National Memorial by Volkan Yuksel DSC04244
Aerial NW direction view of Mount Rushmore National Memorial from a helicopter.

The flora and fauna of Mount Rushmore are similar to those of the rest of the Black Hills region of South Dakota. Birds including the turkey vulture, bald eagle, hawk, and meadowlark fly around Mount Rushmore, occasionally making nesting spots in the ledges of the mountain. Smaller birds, including songbirds, nuthatches, and woodpeckers, inhabit the surrounding pine forests. Terrestrial mammals include the mouse, least chipmunk, red squirrel, skunk, porcupine, raccoon, beaver, badger, coyote, bighorn sheep, bobcat, elk, mule deer, yellow-bellied marmot, and American bison. The striped chorus frog, western chorus frog, and northern leopard frog also inhabit the area, along with several species of snake. Grizzly Bear Brook and Starling Basin Brook, the two streams in the memorial, support fish such as the longnose dace and the brook trout. Mountain goats are not indigenous to the region. Those living near Mount Rushmore are descendents of a tribe that Canada gifted to Custer State Park in 1924, which later escaped.

At lower elevations, coniferous trees, mainly the ponderosa pine, surround most of the monument, providing shade from the sun. Other trees include the bur oak, the Black Hills spruce, and the cottonwood. Nine species of shrubs grow near Mount Rushmore. There is also a wide variety of wildflowers, including especially the snapdragon, sunflower, and violet. Towards higher elevations, plant life becomes sparser. However, only approximately five percent of the plant species found in the Black Hills are indigenous to the region.

The area receives about 18 inches (460 mm) of precipitation on average per year, enough to support abundant animal and plant life. Trees and other plants help to control surface runoff. Dikes, seeps, and springs help to dam up water that is flowing downhill, providing watering spots for animals. In addition, stones like sandstone and limestone help to hold groundwater, creating aquifers.

A study of the fire scars present in tree ring samples indicates that forest fires occur in the ponderosa forests surrounding Mount Rushmore around every 27 years. Large fires are not common. Most events have been ground fires that serve to clear forest debris. The area is a climax community. Recent pine beetle infestations have threatened the forest.

Geography

Geology

Mt. Rushmore Early Morning
Mount Rushmore, showing the full size of the mountain and the scree of rocks from the sculpting and construction.

Mount Rushmore is largely composed of granite. The memorial is carved on the northwest margin of the Black Elk Peak granite batholith in the Black Hills of South Dakota, so the geologic formations of the heart of the Black Hills region are also evident at Mount Rushmore. The batholith magma intruded into the pre-existing mica schist rocks during the Proterozoic, 1.6 billion years ago. Coarse grained pegmatite dikes are associated with the granite intrusion of Black Elk Peak and are visibly lighter in color, thus explaining the light-colored streaks on the foreheads of the presidents.

The Black Hills granites were exposed to erosion during the Neoproterozoic, but were later buried by sandstone and other sediments during the Cambrian. Remaining buried throughout the Paleozoic, they were re-exposed again during the Laramide orogeny around 70 million years ago. The Black Hills area was uplifted as an elongated geologic dome. Subsequent erosion stripped the granite of the overlying sediments and the softer adjacent schist. Some schist does remain and can be seen as the darker material just below the sculpture of Washington.

The tallest mountain in the region is Black Elk Peak (7,242 ft or 2,207 m). Borglum selected Mount Rushmore as the site for several reasons. The rock of the mountain is composed of smooth, fine-grained granite. The durable granite erodes only 1 inch (25 mm) every 10,000 years, thus was more than sturdy enough to support the sculpture and its long-term exposure. The mountain's height of 5,725 feet (1,745 m) above sea level made it suitable, and because it faces the southeast, the workers also had the advantage of sunlight for most of the day.

Soils

The Mount Rushmore area is underlain by brown to dark grayish brown, well drained alfisol soils of very gravelly loam (Mocmount) to silt loam (Buska) texture.

Climate

Mount Rushmore has a humid continental climate (Dwb in the Koeppen climate classification). It is inside a USDA Plant Hardiness Zone of 5a, meaning certain plant life in the area can withstand a low temperature of no less than −20 °F (−29 °C).

The two wettest months of the year are May and June. Orographic lift causes brief but strong afternoon thunderstorms during the summer.

Tourism

Historical visitor count
Year Visitors
1941 393,000
1950 740,499
1960 1,067,000
1970 1,965,700
1980 1,284,888
1990 1,671,673
2000 1,868,876
2010 2,331,237

Tourism is South Dakota's second-largest industry, and Mount Rushmore is the state's top tourist attraction. In 2012, 2,185,447 people visited the park. In the 1950s and 1960s, Sioux Benjamin Black Elk (son of medicine man Black Elk) was the "Fifth Face of Mount Rushmore", posing for photographs with thousands of tourists. He became one of the most photographed people in the world.

Conservation

The ongoing conservation of the site is overseen by the US National Park Service. Physical efforts to conserve the monument have included replacement of the sealant applied originally by Gutzon Borglum, which had proved ineffective at providing water resistance (components include linseed oil, granite dust and white lead). A modern silicone replacement was used, disguised with granite dust.

In 1998, electronic monitoring devices were installed to track movement in the topology of the sculpture to an accuracy of 3 mm. The site has been subsequently digitally recorded using a terrestrial laser scanning methodology in 2009 as part of the international Scottish Ten project, providing a record of unprecedented resolution and accuracy to inform the conservation of the site. This data was made accessible online to be freely used by the wider community to aid further interpretation and public access.

In popular culture

North by Northwest movie trailer screenshot (28)
Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) and Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) dangle precariously from the sculpture of George Washington in the 1959 film North by Northwest
Mount Rushmore stamp 3c 1952 issue
Mount Rushmore commemorative stamp of 1952

Because of its fame as a monument, Mount Rushmore has been depicted in multiple places in popular culture. It is often depicted as a cover for a secret location; shown with faces removed or modified (as in Superman II), or added; or parodied. Trey Parker and Matt Stone used the location as the headquarters for their movie "Team America: World Police". The memorial was also famously used as the location of the climactic chase scene in Alfred Hitchcock's 1959 movie North by Northwest.

Legacy and commemoration

On August 11, 1952, the U.S. Post Office issued the Mount Rushmore Memorial commemorative stamp on the 25th anniversary of the dedication of the Mt. Rushmore National Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota. On January 2, 1974, a 26-cent airmail stamp depicting the monument was also issued.

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