Land of the Tall Faces

Mount Rushmore

My wife and I road tripped to South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial this past weekend.

We saw Mount Rushmore first, and it simply floored me. It is so jaw dropping, so awe-inspiring. It was like when I visited the Grand Canyon–it’s the first and only time I actually, physically, dropped my jaw in awe. It was one mighty tall hole. These are some mighty tall faces. And the history behind it so compelling. Here’s another link.

Now, I knew of some issues with the creation of Mount Rushmore, but as I wrote this post, I found more issues surrounding the creation of it, of the Manifest Destiny and territorial expansionism at the expense of the Native Americans, and the sculptor, Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum (March 25, 1867 – March 6, 1941), and his problems in Georgia. It is not my intent to discuss the rights and wrongs leading up to Mount Rushmore. I do not agree with taking over and destroying any People’s culture or lives. I am simply marveling at the art that has been created.

As one information bit at the memorial said, it was a time when the nation was still a tad cocky (my paraphrasing). On December 28, 1923, South Dakotan State Historian, Doane Robinson suggested carving giant statues of American explorers and Native American leaders into the Black Hills (Pahá Sápa in Lakota, Moʼȯhta-voʼhonáaeva in Cheyenne) mountains South Dakota. He’d asked Gutzon Borglum to be the sculptor. But Borglum had a slightly different vision: he envisioned four U.S. presidents and a tablet to the right of it, inscribed with a brief history of America. Behind the “Tall Faces,” would be a Hall of Records housing national documents and artifacts. Work began on October 4, 1927 and ended October 31, 1941. Borglum died on March 6, 1941. His son, Lincoln, continued with the project. The money ran out, however, with the approach of WWII, so the memorial wasn’t even completed. I found this interesting.

Something I didn’t even find out until creating this post, was that Mount Rushmore was originally called Six Grandfathers (see also this link), by the Lakota Sioux. Read this interesting and sobering account of Mount Rushmore’s history, which I saw nothing about in the Memorial.

Mount Rushmore was named in 1885, after New York lawyer, Charles E. Rushmore. It  had also been known as Cougar Mountain, Sugarloaf Mountain, Slaughterhouse Mountain, and Keystone Cliffs.

There were over 400 workers who helped create this memorial.

90% of the heads were carved using dynamite.

No one died during 14 years of carving operations.

Mount Rushmore is 5,725 feet tall.

It was really cool walking the path along the bottom face of Rushmore, and looking up at them from different perspectives than are normally seen. And do bring binoculars! It gives “in your face” a totally new meaning!

The Crazy Horse Memorial was no less fascinating. In fact, it is still in progress, and will be far beyond my lifetime. Korczak Ziolkowski (September 6, 1908 – October 20, 1982) was contacted by Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear and invited to carve Crazy Horse, as a way of letting “…the white man know the red man has great heroes, also.” While we were there, we saw no workers actually at work, though heavy equipment could be seen. Bring your binoculars here, too–and take the bus ride that takes off down toward the monument (be sure to tip the driver!). There is no hiking path, and is set up quite differently than Rushmore. But Crazy Horse is privately funded and is not part of the National Park Service. Korczak Ziolkowski was a strong believer in the free-enterprise system, and believed the monument “should be built by the interested public, not the taxpayer.

Korczak Ziolkowski arrived on May 3, 1947 and started work June 3, 1948. He worked for 34 years, until his death in 1982. His wife and their seven children continued his efforts (Anne died in 2011, leaving six children). Their grandchildren, best we were told by our bus driver, were all in college and he didn’t know their desires one way or the other to continue the work.

The scale of Crazy Horse is simply staggering and needs to be seen. All of Mount Rushmore fits within a rectangle of Crazy Horse’s head. Whereas Rushmore was part of a mountain, Crazy Horse will eventually be the entire mountain, “in the round,” which means three-dimensional as the backside of the mountain will also be carved. It’s well-deserved and staggering in scope. Korczak left detailed directions for future work, knowing full well it would take more than one lifetime to complete this mission.

This was truly a fascinating and awe-inspiring trip. Even emotional, at one point, I was surprised to find. I hope in some near future we can all stop attacking each other and come to peace and understanding and tolerance…where we can create more such enduring works of grand scale art and not have Crazy Horse or Rushmore end up like the remains of the Statue Liberty, in the final scene of first Planet of the Apes movie, because that did, indeed, keep running through my mind as I looked at those mountains….

Enjoy the shots.

About fpdorchak

Upmarket paranormal fiction author. I write gritty, Twilight Zone-like fiction. Please check out my website:! Thank you for stopping by!
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2 Responses to Land of the Tall Faces

  1. Pingback: Big Sky Country—Our Road Trip To Family Through Montana’s History « Runnin Off at the Mouth….

  2. Pingback: Upstate New York « Runnin Off at the Mouth….

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