The Monuments

North America
May 25th 2023
Published: May 25th 2023
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Day Three

Fist thing I have to do is correct my last blog. It was a wooly mammoth not a mastodon skeleton.

This morning we headed to Mt Rushmore, which you can see by my last blog is pretty close by. Took us about 15 min to get there. Amazing use of granite blocks in the architecture of the porticos at the entrance, walkways, buildings and and walls. Looked like most of them were made of matching pieces. Along the walkway to the amphitheater were flags of every state and US territory, alphabetically. We went to see the video on how Mt Rushmore was built. Very interesting, between the guy hired to be the sculptor and the fact that with over 400 men working on it without one death, it was amazing. Second day of actual hiking and I successfully made it another mile and a half. So much is known about Rushmore, like it is a National monument, took over 14 years to create, and had four presidents on it. Less known is the reasoning for the long time, that of it being a federally funded project and when the money ran out from an approved appropriation, the sculptor had to start at the beginning of an entirely new paper drill with a new administration. The four presidents were chosen for different reasons - Washington, for being the father of our country; Jefferson for westward expansion; Lincoln for unifying a split country through the Civil War, and Roosevelt for prosperity. Jefferson was originally supposed to be the first one up there as depicted in original drawings. Roosevelt was chosen when realization dawned that there was room for a 4th President. He was also a good friend of Doane Robinson, the person who first conceived the project. In the beginning however, he wanted people who had made SD what it was, for example, Buffalo Bill Cody, and it was supposed to be sculpted on a geological formation called the Needles. But the sculptor they hired said the formation would not work and that the monument should reflect the entire nation. Funny that the whole thing was just supposed to be a way to bring tourists in. So tonight we are going back for the lighting of the faces. Could see them from my window last night, but when I tried to take a picture, they looked more like an alien aircraft then a face.

After a lunch in Keystone, we boarded the 1880 Steam train for a 10 mile ride through the black hills to Hill City. Coaches were well preserved and comfortable, but with the heat and slow movement it really tired us out.

Our next stop however, changed that in a snap. We got in the van and headed to Crazy Horse State Park, where the carving of that Native American and his horse have been going on for 75 years. A friend of Crazy Horse wanted to build a monument to the Native Americans and because Crazy Horse had been the last of the leaders to surrender and bring his people on to reservations, he was considered a hero among the tribes. Although there was major brutality on both sides of all the conflicts, he was chosen because he fought to keep his people on the land and free. Standing Bear hired a sculptor who had worked for the Rushmore project for awhile until he had a run-in with the head sculptor there. In the meantime this sculptor won a major award for a sculpture he created. Standing Bear and the others leaders felt that since he was born 6 hours after Crazy Horse was murdered, that it was a sign. A Polish-American orphan from Boston, he was unsure of taking on the task but eventually did. He moved to SD, to the place where the Indians wanted the monument, built his log cabin by hand, created a model of the monument to scale and started work - alone. He married and together the two of them wrote three volumes of directions for how to build it (and even with digital technology, it is being used today) from the sizes, where to begin, etc. The built a 700+ step staircase to the top of the granite hill and he carried everything up and down the stairs. He installed a compressor at the bottom and often had to turn back midway up the steps because it had conked out. The documentary said he did this up to 9 times a day. He and his wife had 10 kids, 5 of each and the boys would help him on the monument while the girls helped their mother, selling tickets and taking care of the house. Everything at the time was done by hand, using hammers and rods to mark things off, create holes for dynamiting and chipping away the granite. 4 of his children still work at the visitors center or on the mountain and 4 grand children also work the project. Because it is not federally funded, but is a non-profit, its financing comes from visitor fees, gift store purchases, donations from philanthropists and from many Native American tribes. There is an amazing visitors center filled with Native American handwork, letters, artists, etc., including the original tools, model for the project, the sculptor’s home and anything else you could imagine. During the first weekend of June they are sponsoring a 10K mile run with the end being at the top of the mountain where they will unveil the arm, pointing finger and rest of the hand. No date can be given on final completion, but a vigorous 5 year plan is in place. Modern technology is making forward movement on the project so much easier and who knows what the next five years will hold. When it is finished it will be over 540 feet tall and 640+ feet long, making it the largest monument in the US. His face alone is 63 feet tall, and there will be a 44 foot granite feather in his hair, created from carving 11 - 4 foot blocks of granite into quills. It will be spectacular. Hope to get back to see it again.

After a lovely dinner we got our nightly quota of ice cream, the best yet.

Well, I better sign off, put on bug spray and get ready to go for last trip of the day. Goodnight all from Keystone.


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