Mount Rushmore at 75
They are towering figures in American history in more ways than one. The 60-foot sculptures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln carved into the granite face of South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore turn 75 years old this year and, for sheer size, they’re the biggest tribute any president has received.
The idea for a sculpture was conceived by Doane Robinson, state historian of South Dakota, as a way to bring tourists to the Black Hills. Robinson wanted the monument to honor Western heroes like Buffalo Bill. But sculptor Gutzon Borglum insisted that it have a national scope and selected the four presidents to represent the first 150 years of American history. Borglum began work on the project in 1927 but died before its completion, on March 6, 1941, just before his 74th birthday. His son, Lincoln Borglum, put the final touches on his father’s masterpiece, finishing on Oct. 31, 1941. Today, Mount Rushmore is an American icon that attracts nearly 3 million visitors a year.
If Mount Rushmore is on your travel bucket list, September and October tend to be less busy, so they’re great times to visit the monument and the surrounding Black Hills. Lodging is available in several nearby communities.
You’ll start your visit to the Mount Rushmore National Memorial at the visitors center, where there’s a short film explaining how the sculptures were carved. Afterward, walk about a half-mile along the Presidential Trail to get a closer look at the presidents’ faces. From the end of May through the first week in October, visitors can also see Gutzon Borglum’s studio, where he spent much of his time working on a 1/12th scale model of the monument. A nighttime program takes place in the amphitheater from late May through the end of September, ending with the monument’s illumination.
Two events are planned this fall in Rapid City, about 30 minutes away, to celebrate Mount Rushmore’s birthday. The Journey Museum has an exhibit through Oct. 15 exploring the monument’s history from conception to completion. On Oct. 22, the Black Hills Symphony Orchestra and Dakota Choral Union will perform Grammy-winning composer Michael Daugherty’s “Mount Rushmore,” at the Civic Center Theatre. Rapid City is also host to the 30th annual Black Hills Powwow, Oct. 7–9, celebrating Native American culture.
Rapid City also further embraces the presidential heritage of nearby Mount Rushmore by providing American history aficionados with life-size statues of each former United States president from George Washington to George W. Bush on street corners throughout the city.
There’s a lot more to do in the Black Hills. Check on the progress of the Crazy Horse memorial. The giant sculpture of a Sioux warrior has been under construction since 1948. Needles Highway, in Custer State Park, was completed in 1922 and is one of the country’s most scenic routes, with 14 miles of sharp turns, tunnels, and imposing granite spires. The park’s buffalo are rounded up on the last Friday in September every year, and it’s a great chance to see the majestic 1,300-strong herd. The accompanying Buffalo Roundup Arts Festival takes place Sept. 29 to Oct. 1.
For help planning a trip to Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills of South Dakota, contact Travel Leaders Colorado Springs at, (719) 597-0004.