In March of this year, Mount Rushmore began a year of celebration marking its 90 years of history. Artist Gutzon Borglum had his work cut out for him in creating a truly monumental piece of art. Many of us have been there, stared up at the presidents, posed for photos, and gone in the gift shop. Maybe you’ve even purchased a small state flag representing your home as I did. It wasn’t until we started publishing items from the Arizona Historical Society, which include items illuminating Mount Rushmore’s history, that I really stopped to think about what it took to create those presidents in the hills.
One of the most interesting letters in the Arizona Historical Society collection is written by Borglum to Eleanor Roosevelt. Eleanor Roosevelt wants to know why Susan B. Anthony isn’t included with TR, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington. Here is part of what Borglum has to say for himself:
“The figures were determined upon only after long debate, much study and argument: Jefferson, because of the declaration of the rights of a people to their freedom and happiness and, more especially here, because he took the first step towards continental expansion. It might be stated here parenthetically that the reason for having this monument in South Dakota was because that state was the center of the Louisiana Purchase, the tablet claiming the region for France was discovered near ancient Fort Pierre. That fact determined the character of the monument as a memorial to the continental empire of the United States. Washington was chosen for his services in the field, in securing the independence of the Republic and the framing of a union government by the constitution insuring the tenets of the Declaration of Independence; Lincoln, for the preservation of the Union and Theodore Roosevelt, because by breaking a political lobby that had blocked for half a century every effort to cut the Isthmus, he accomplished the purpose of Columbus’ entrance into the western hemisphere.”
For the full text of the letter, please click here.
Happy Birthday, Mount Rushmore!!!
Photo of Mount Rushmore from road, Mount Rushmore National Monument Collection.
Electronic copy sponsored by the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University.