Mount Rushmore National Memorial

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Images of four United States Presidents were carved into a mountain called "Mount Rushmore" by sculptor Gutzon Borglum and almost 400 workmen who labored from 1927 through 1941.


Entombed here in southwestern South Dakota in the year 1998 are records of why and how this mountain was carved. Also included are important documents related to the history and growth of the United States of America in relation to these four presidents.

“Into this room the records of what our people aspired to and what they have accomplished should be collected and preserved, and on the walls of this room should be cut the literal records of the conception of our republic, its successful creation, the record of its westward movement to the Pacific, its presidents, how the memorial was built and, frankly. Why.” Gutzon Borglum.

Mount rushmore

In the original design of Mount Rushmore, Borglum wanted to include a carved inscription alongside the presidents. The inscription was to include the nine most significant events in American History and was to be carved on an 80 by 100 foot area in the shape of the Louisiana Purchase. Many ideas were presented as to what the nine events should be, however, the inscription would never be carved. The text of the inscription could not be carved large enough for people to read from a great distance and problems within the granite forced changes in the design, relocating Jefferson and Lincoln to their current locations. Lincoln is now located on the rock Borglum had intended for the inscription. To replace the inscription, Borglum conceived another idea: The Hall of Records.

In the canyon, located behind the carved faces, he decided to create a grand entrance way with doors 20 feet high by 12 feet wide. Above these doors and inscribed on a bronze eagle words would proclaim, “America’s Onwards March” and “The Hall of Records.” The chamber measured 80 by 100 feet and according to Borglum, this was the perfect place to store historical documents such as the Constitution of the United States and the Declaration of Independence. He also thought the hall should include busts of Americans who had made great accomplishments and lists of contributions that Americans made in the sciences, arts, and in industry. Borglum’s plan also called for a grand staircase of 800 granite steps beginning by his studio and gradually climbing up into the canyon behind Lincoln’s face leading to the Hall’s entrance.

In 1938, Borglum and his crew began to carve the entrance. The work was very difficult. The granite was a lot harder than working on the faces and the drill bits dulled more quickly. The granite dust was so thick workers choked on it. Within a year, however, the entrance was almost completed and the work had progressed into the mountain about 70 feet. At this time, Borglum was urged to finish the work on the faces and eventually he conceded. War began in Europe, the threat of America joining was looming and funds were running short. Borglum hoped that after the war he could finish the Hall of Records and as time progressed, his plan for the Hall became more elaborate. He wanted words of important documents carved on the sides of the walls in different languages and multiple rooms.


In 1941, circumstances were against Borglum. In March of 1941 he passed away unexpectedly after minor surgery in Chicago. His son Lincoln took over the carving. There were only enough funds remaining to continue work through the summer. The project was shut-down on October 31, 1941. The faces were deemed finished, but Lincoln hoped by war’s end funds would be made available to finish the Hall. The Borglum family, wanting to finish their father's dream, tried over the years to revive an interest in this portion of the carving.

Finally in 1998, the National Park System along with the Borglum family put the finishing touches on the Hall of Records. The room was not carved, but a titanium vault, housing a teakwood box was installed in the granite floor in the entrance way. The box contains sixteen porcelain enamel panels. On these panels are written the words of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, a history of how and why Mount Rushmore was carved, a history of the four presidents with quotes from each, a biography on Gutzon Borglum, and the history of the United States. The capsule is sealed with a granite capstone. The inscription on the capstone comes from Gutzon Borglum’s speech at the 1930 dedication of the Washington figure.

“…Let us place there, carved high, as close to heaven as we can, the words of our leaders, their faces, to show posterity what manner of men they were. Then breather a prayer that these records will endure until wind and rain alone shall wear them away.”

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Borglum once wrote:

"We believe the dimensions of national heartbeats are greater than village impulses, greater than state dreams or ambitions. Therefore we believe a nation's memorial should, like Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt, have a serenity, a nobility, a power that reflects the gods who inspired them and suggests the gods they have become.

"As for sculptured mountains - Civilization, even its fine arts, is, most of it, quantity-produced stuff: education, law, government, wealth - each is enduring only as the day. Too little of it lasts into tomorrow and tomorrow is strangely the enemy of today, as today has already begun to forget buried yesterday. Each succeeding civilization forgets its predecessor, and out of its body builds its homes, its temples. Civilizations are ghouls. Egypt was pulled apart by its successor; Greece was divided among the Romans; Rome was pulled to pieces by bigotry and bitterness much of which was engendered its own empire building.

"I want, somewhere in America, on or near the Rockies, the backbone of the Continent, so far removed from succeeding, selfish, coveting civilizations, a few feet of stone that bears witness, carries the likeness, the dates, a word or two of the great things we accomplished as a Nation, placed so high it won't pay to pull them down for lesser purposes.

"Hence, let us place there, carved high, as close to heaven as we can, the words of our leaders, their faces, to show posterity what manner of men they were. Then breathe a prayer that these records will endure until the wind and rain alone shall wear them away."

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Then follows a brief biography of George Washington and then the text of the United States Constitution, including the Bill of Rights. A biography of Thomas Jefferson includes the text of the Declaration of Independence. Abraham Lincoln's life is accompanied by the text of the Gettysburg Address. A short life of Theodore Roosevelt follows. The rest of the Hall of Records documents include a series of essays:

• "How the Memorial was Completed," describing the history of the idea and subsequent carving of Rushmore

• "The Work Involved to Create the Figures," on the physical shaping of the monument

• "Mount Rushmore Sculptor Gutzon Borglum," a biography of the artist

• "The Meaning of Mount Rushmore,"a history of the United States

This last essay begins:

"The four American presidents carved into the granite of Mount Rushmore were chosen by sculptor Gutzon Borglum to commemorate the founding, growth, preservation and development of the United States. They symbolize the principles of liberty and freedom on which the nation was founded. George Washington signifies the struggle for independence and the birth of the Republic; Thomas Jefferson the territorial expansion of the country; Abraham Lincoln the permanent union of the states and equality for all citizens; and Theodore Roosevelt, the 20th century role of the United States in world affairs and the rights of the common man."

The essay continues with a brief history of the nation's first 150 years, which is "not meant to be a scholarly version of American history, but to weave the four presidents on Mount Rushmore into the early and important events of America's development." The history then ends with four quotes:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." --Thomas Jefferson Declaration of Independence July 4, 1776

"The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people." -- George Washington First Inaugural Address April 20, 1789

"It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." -- Abraham Lincoln Gettysburg Address November 19, 1863

"We, here in America, hold in our hands the hopes of the worlds, the fate of the coming years; and shame and disgrace will be ours if in our eyes the light of high resolve is dimmed, if we trail in the dust the golden hopes of men." -- Theodore Roosevelt Address at Carnegie Hall March 30, 1912

“You may as well drop a letter into the world’s postal service without an address or signature, as to send that carved mountain into history without identification.”

Sculptor Gutzon Borglum, 1939


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