The Hidden Chamber Within Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore is a United States National Monument in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Construction of the main sculpture began in 1927 and lasted until October 1941. It features facial carvings of four prominent United States Presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.

Sculptor Gutzon Borglum designed and oversaw the project. While Mount Rushmore may look like nothing more than four faces chiseled into the side of a mountain, there’s more than meets the eye. Borglum had big plans that he kept out of sight to the general public. See what he was dreaming up and what’s kept behind the heads of our forefathers today.

The Father of Mount Rushmore

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In 1923, historian Doane Robinson, known as “The Father of Mount Rushmore,” came up with the idea to construct a monument to increase tourism in South Dakota. In 1924, he contacted sculptor Gutzon Borglum. Borglum was involved with The Confederate Memorial Carving on Stone Mountain in Georgia.

Robinson expressed his desire to do a similar carving in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and Borlgum agreed. Originally, the monument was supposed to be in a location known as the Needles near Custer, South Dakota. However, the granite pillars proved to be too thin and would have risked crumbling.

The Presidential Carvings Weren’t The Original Intention

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Photo Credit: National Park Service

They settled on Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Upon seeing Mount Rushmore, Borglum commented that “America will march along that skyline.” Congress authorized the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Commission on March 3, 1925.

However, carving the faces of the four presidents we see today wasn’t the original intention. At first, they planned to sculpt world famous people to attract visitors from across the globe. They also discussed carving major events from American history. They ultimately decided to go with the sculptures of presidents that we see today.

Why These Presidents?

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Before Doane Robinson came up with the idea for Mount Rushmore, there had already been 29 presidents. So what made Gutzon Borglum decide on these four?

According to the National Parks Service, all four were chosen for what they represent to the United States. George Washington represents the birth of the nation, Jefferson represents the growth, Roosevelt represents the development, and Abraham Lincoln represents the preservation of the union. Although there were other candidates, Borglum felt that these four embodied the essence of the United States and were deserving of a spot on the monument.

Can you guess the contention they ran into before they even started work on the mountain?

Controversy With The Location

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Before actual construction began, the project ran into a roadblock concerning its location. The design would require the transformation of the land around it and would permanently alter the geology of the area.

The Black Hills of South Dakota are sacred lands for numerous Native American tribes including the Lakotas, Cheyennes, Arapahos, and more. The project continued since the U.S. government had already claimed the area as a National Park. To this day, the hills are still used for ritualistic purposes by the Native Americans. Proper compensation for using the land is still being discussed.

Construction Begins

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By October 1927, construction had started. Gutzon Borglum hired 400 workers to help him turn his design into a reality. For Borglum, the monument wasn’t just going to be another one of his works. It was going to be his masterpiece and his permanent gift to the American people for generations to come.

But Borglum had even bigger plans for the monument then what he disclosed. He intended for the monument to be more than just carvings in the side of the mountain. He wanted to leave behind clues for future humans to learn about the United States.

Funding Created Numerous Restrictions

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Gutzon Borglum had grander plans for the design of the monument. These designs included more than just the four presidents. He also wanted to add a map of the Louisiana Purchase on the face of the mountain. Within the map, he wanted to carve some of the nation’s highest accomplishments and significant events.

Unfortunately, the commission for these extra pieces was denied due to funding. The presidents were also supposed to be carved from the waist up, but limited funds put a halt to that too. However, Borglum was allowed to add something of his own — something that remains shrouded in mystery to this day.

The Carving Process Was Long But Efficient

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Italian immigrant Luigi Del Blanco was chosen as Chief Carver on the mountain for his incredible ability to show emotions and personality in stone. Carving the faces involved dynamite and a process known as honeycombing.

Workers would drill small holes close together so they could remove tiny pieces by hand. They would then use a bumper tool or a hand facer to smooth the surface of the rock. Around 450,000 tons of rock was removed from the face of the mountain.

Did you know Jefferson almost didn’t fit?

Complications During Construction

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However, the project didn’t go off without any hitches. Originally, Thomas Jefferson was supposed to be on the right side of George Washington. They had even started constructing it that way.

Due to complications with the granite, they had to dynamite their first attempt at Jefferson and carve him on the left side. If it seems that Jefferson seems to be squished in, it’s because he is. The workers even feared that they weren’t going to be able to fit him.

The National Parks Service Steps In

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In 1933, the National Parks Service took over Mount Rushmore under its jurisdiction. This merger helped improve infrastructure and funding for the whole project. The faces of Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln were completed in order from left to right.

Washington was completed and dedicated in 1934, Jefferson in 1936, and Lincoln in 1937. The face of Theodore Roosevelt was finally completed in 1939. However, during the construction of the faces, Gutzon Borglum also began working on his secret addition to the mountain.

Gutzon Borglum’s Secret Addition

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Funding put a stop to many of the monuments original plans. However, the United States government authorized Gutzon Borglum’s special addition. Between 1938 and 1939, a 70-foot tunnel behind Abraham Lincoln’s head was carved into the mountain. This was intended by Borglum to be the entrance of what was to be called “The Hall of Records at Mount Rushmore.”

Here, some of the United State’s most important documents were to be housed. The entrance was going to be 20 feet high and 14 feet wide with doors opening into an 80-by-100-foot chamber. There would also be an eagle with a 38-foot wingspan above the entrance. The inscription above the eagle would read “America’s Onward March” and “Hall of Records.” Here, documents such as the Constitution and Declaration of Independence were going to be held in bronze and glass cabinets.

A Dream Cut Short

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The Hall of Records was intended to be a glorified time capsule. Gutzon Borglum’s ultimate goal was for future generations to find the entrance and learn the history of the United States and all of its accomplishments. Unfortunately, Borglum died in 1941 before the entire monument could be completed. His son Lincoln stepped in to oversee the completion of the project.

His death and America’s involvement in WWII put a halt on the Hall of Records but not the monument itself. For decades, the hall remained nothing more than a tunnel that had been cut into the side of the mountain. It remained that way until decades later when others decided to honor Borglum for what he had done and intended to do for the United States.

There Was A Movement To Add Susan B. Anthony

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In 1937, a new bill was introduced to Congress that pushed for Susan B. Anthony to be added to the sculpture. However, an appropriations bill was added to the project in fear of it costing too much money by adding Anthony.

The bill stated that all the funds must go towards the heads that had already been started and not any new ones. Although Anthony would have been a welcomed face on Mount Rushmore for her role in achieving women’s suffrage, it was not brought up again after the monument had been completed.

The Main Monument Was Completed With No Deaths

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Photo Credits: National Parks Service

On October 31, 1941, the Mount Rushmore National Memorial was considered a completed project. In total, the entire project cost $989,992.32, which was a lot less than if they had gone with some of the originals designs.

An astounding statistic is that there was not a single death of a worker while completing the monument. Considering a job of such size and risk, having no deaths is a big feat. In 1966, Mount Rushmore was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1991, President H.W. Bush officially dedicated Mount Rushmore. It was only a few more years until Gutzon Borglum’s wish was granted.

The Hall Was Eventually Completed (Somewhat)

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Although Gutzon Borglum’s plans for the Hall of Records seemed to die with him in 1941, his dream carried on. On August 8, 1998, the tunnel was commemorated into a small Hall of Records. Although it’s nowhere near as extravagant as he had planned or hoped for, it’s still something. A repository of records was placed inside of the entry of the hall. The container is a teakwood box that has been placed inside a titanium vault and covered by a granite capstone.

A quote by Borglum is etched on the capstone which reads “..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.”

But what was inside of the vault?

Gutzon Borglum Still Got His Records

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Photo Credit: National Parks Service

Inside of the vault and box are sixteen porcelain panels. Written on those panels is the story of Mount Rushmore’s creation, who carved it, and why each of the presidents is significant. The panels include a brief history of the United States to give anyone who finds it some background about the country’s existence. It also contains an engraving of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Today, the entrance to the hall is sealed behind a 1,200-pound granite slab so that it cannot be disturbed. This is so because it was not built or meant for us, but for the people thousands of years in the future that may stumble upon it.

Maintaining Mount Rushmore

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There’s a ton of work that goes into maintaining Mount Rushmore. Not just the grounds for the tourists but the mountain itself. This is because it was carved into granite which is more susceptible to cracking than most other stone.

In 1989, the National Park Service and the Mount Rushmore Society began to conduct studies to understand the structural integrity of the monument and where weak points might arise over the years. The study also helped to test the sealant for cracks created by Borglum which was made of linseed oil, white lead, and granite dust. It was discovered that it was ineffective at keeping water out.

New Sealant And Constant Monitoring

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In order to keep maintain the integrity of the structure, the National Parks staff began to remove the old sealant and started replacing it with modern silicone. This way, the sealant will be able to withstand the range of temperatures that the Black Hills are subjected to as well as the rain.

To keep the silicone hidden, it is then dusted with granite powder. In addition to the new silicone, an electric monitoring system was installed that can detect even the smallest movement below 0.0001 inches. It can also record the temperature of the granite. This will help to prevent any unforeseen problems in the future.

Rarely Any Cleaning Occurs

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Unsurprisingly, not nearly as much cleaning of the monument occurs as maintaining. This is mostly due to budget constraints which makes any cleaning that is done particularly minimal and only in desperate situations.

However, in 2005, a pressuring washing company named Kärcher did the United States a favor. They did a free cleanup with their equiptment which took weeks to perform using pressurized water at over 200 degrees. This was the best cleaning that the monument had received since its inception starting in 1927.

Mount Rushmore Today

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In the late 1980s, a project was started to give the best experience possible to those who wish to visit the monument. This project led to the development of the visitor facilities, sidewalks, and other infrastructure around the monument.

These include the Mount Rushmore Visitors Plaza, Lincoln Borglum Museum, and the Presidential trail. The Presidential Trail allows guests to walk below the monument. These developments helped turn Mount Rushmore into South Dakota’s biggest tourist attraction and one of the nation’s proudest monuments.

Learn more about the activities and experiences available at Mount Rushmore.

Activities At The Monument

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Although the sculpture is impressive enough to look at, there are some things to do if you plan on spending some time at the monument. At the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center, there are exhibits and a short film to show the methods and reasoning that went into shaping the sculpture.

The Presidential Trail is 0.6 miles long with an opportunity to get up close and personal with the sculpture. There is a junior ranger program for children of all ages. There are also ranger talks which discuss the histories of the local tribes and the Evening Lighting Ceremony. There’s even a self-guided audio tour for those who want the full history of the monument.

America’s monuments are not only impressive but provide a powerful message. The iconic Statue of Liberty arrived in New York from France in 1885 but was erected in Boston first. Next, what you don’t know about the State of Liberty.

The Statue of Liberty doesn’t have origins in America. The people of France gifted it to us, and since then, it has become a staple in the United States tourism and culture. The iconic statue arrived in New York in 1885 while 200,000 people stood and watched the French boat Isére bring it in the harbor. Dive in and learn some of the more exciting things you didn’t know like who’s face they modeled the statue after.

Do You Know Her True Name?

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We’ve grown accustomed to calling this American landmark the Statue of Liberty, but we should consider her real name. According to her designer Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, her actual name is Liberty Enlightening the World.

Its former name is quite long-winded whereas the current name almost rolls off the tongue. Next time you hear someone call her the Statue of Liberty you can now correct him or her and reveal the real name.

The Big Climb

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Up until 1916, if you had the courage, tourists were able to climb to the top of the torch. Things changed after the Black Tom incident. During this incident, an explosion happened on Black Tom Island.

The explosion had the power of a 5.5 earthquake and sent shrapnel flying across the sky, shattering windows up to 25 miles away. The torch got closed down mainly due to the damage from the explosion.

An Egyptian Placement

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Designer Bartholdi didn’t plan for his creation to come to America. He visited Egypt as a young man and fell in love with a project they had underway, digging a channel between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.

Bartholdi met with the leader of Egypt, Khedive, and pitched him the idea of building something as remarkable as the pyramids. The deal fell through, and Bartholdi took his talents to America.

The Military’s Home

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The star-shaped based used to be more than just a pedestal. It housed military families from 1818 to the mid-1930s. The families usually included young children.

One former resident named James Hill recalled his time there. He said he and his sister would drop baseballs from the crown only to see how high they could bounce.

Up next, learn who Lady Liberty is modeled after.

A Mused Mother

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Many great art pieces often get inspired by a woman in the artist’s life. A wife or even a distant lover have inspired many great artistic things in the past. The Statue of Liberty is no different.

Charlotte Bartholdi provided her son with the right inspiration. He modeled it after her, but he didn’t forget about his wife. She also posed as an option.

The Statue Almost Stayed In Philly

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Before construction of the statue was completed, it had a home in Philadelphia to help increase funds. People visited the statue, climbed the top of the torch, and took in the view. Soon enough, the appropriate funds were raised, and the head of the statue was built.

While in Philadelphia, Lady Liberty gathered a lot of attention. Bartholdi enjoyed all the love it received and thought about keeping her in the City of Brotherly Love.

Boston Made a Play at the Statue

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The statue had more construction underway in Paris after leaving Philadelphia. Fundraising in New York had slowed down a bit at this point, and Boston saw an opportunity.

The New York Times reported, “[Boston] proposes to take our neglected statue of Liberty and warm it over for her own use and glory. Boston has probably again overestimated her powers. This statue is dear to us, though we have never looked upon it, and no third-rate town is going to step in and take it from us.” Maybe Boston should have tried harder.

Is It A Lighthouse?

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After Ulysses Grant authorized the use of Liberty Island for the Statue of Liberty, he proposed that it should be a lighthouse. Thus, giving it a purpose and making it available for government funding.

Engineers couldn’t incorporate enough light in it so that plan got spoiled. Bartholdi grew upset with this. As time carried on, they realized that Liberty Island is too far inland for the statue to be a functional lighthouse anyway.

Those Aren’t Her Spikes

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The seven spikes you see weren’t originally on the Statue of Liberty’s head. And it isn’t a crown, it’s meant to be a halo. The seven spikes represent the world’s seven seas and continents. They were removed briefly in 1938 to replace the rusted parts.

The Golden Statue?

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Bartholdi had even more plans for his masterpiece. He wanted to cover the Statue of Liberty in gold so that it could be visible after dark. This idea understandably would cost a pretty penny.

Thanks to the difficulty of raising the standard funds of having the statue constructed, covering it in gold fell out of the equation. Bartholdi might have never generated enough to get the gold.

Thomas Edison Wanted There To Be Speech

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The genius of Thomas Edison blessed the entire world. He also wanted to bring life to the lifeless. After Edison offered the world the phonograph, he told newspapers even bigger things were on the way.

Edison planned to make a “monster disc” for the inside of the figure. If this had happened, the statue would have been able to give speeches heard across the bay and up to the northern part of Manhattan.

Where’s Their Freedom?

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Women’s rights groups did not support the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty. They felt it strange for a large lady figure representing liberty to stand tall, and they had no freedom to vote.

The only two women to attend the big event were Bartholdi’s wife and the daughter of the engineer who designed the Suez Canal.

A Central Location

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Bartholdi had two locations in mind before deciding on Liberty Island. Upon arriving in New York, he thought Brooklyn’s Prospect Park could host his statue. Central Park had just got built, so that was a consideration as well.

If he had stuck with Central Park, one of New York’s most prominent apartment complexes the Dakota wouldn’t have even reached the statue’s big toe.

She Has Many Nicknames

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Earlier we discussed what the original name of the Statue of Liberty is. Did you know the name we commonly call it is merely a nickname? In fact, there are several nicknames.

Here are the other alias’ she has: Grande Dame, Green Goddess, The Lady Higher Up, Lady of the Harbor, Lady on a Pedestal, Lady with a Torch, Mother of Exiles, Mother of Freedom, Saint Liberty, America’s Freedom, America’s Great Lady, Aunt Liberty, Bartholdi’s Daughter, Giant Goddess, and the Spirit of American Independence.

She Started A Trend

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Before the dedication ceremony, the Statue of Liberty had an inauguration in the form of a huge Manhattan parade. Tons of people filled the street to celebrate the new structure in NYC that was sure to become iconic.

Excited day traders from the Stock Exchange started throwing down torn up ticker tape from their windows. This started the New York tradition: the ticker tape parade.

It Wasn’t Always Green…

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The natural color for this masterful creation isn’t green. You wouldn’t believe it, but the Statue of Liberty started off as a dull copper brown color.

Over time, copper oxidizes and changes. It turns from brown to the green-like color we now see to help protect from deteriorating more. The full green color took form by 1906.

A Sign Of Freedom

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Many details on the statue are hard to spot, especially if you aren’t aware of them. Do you what’s going on with the Mother of Freedom’s feet?

You can hardly see it, but she is standing around broken shackles and chains. Her right foot has a slight raise also, which symbolizes her moving away from slavery and oppression.

She Loves Lightning

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If you had to guess how many times Lady Liberty gets hit with lightning, you’d probably choose incorrectly.

Reports are that the Statue of Liberty gets hit with 600 bolts per year. A photographer finally got this image after years of trying in 2010. Time well spent attempting to get a photo like this.

That’s A Lot Of Pieces!

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How did you imagine the Statue of Liberty arrived in America since it didn’t get built in the U.S.? Well, it didn’t come fully-scaled, and workers had an extraordinary project ahead of them.

She was shipped from France in 350 pieces. The pieces were packed in 214 boxes and placed on a boat. That has to be the worst unpacking job ever.

A Sister Statue?

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The idea of having a statue in Egypt didn’t die. After the initial deal ended, there were still talks about placing an entirely different figure at the entrance to the Suez Canal that would have got called “Egypt Carrying Light to Asia.”

A veiled Egyptian peasant woman holding a lantern was in the plans, but the idea got shut down again because of the pricing.