In the Black Hills, the mountains of South Dakota, the huge heads of four US presidents look down on the people. Planned as a tourist attraction, the Mount Rushmore National Memorial attracts much criticism.
On Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the Mount Rushmore National Memorial was built between 1927 and 1941. The heads of the four presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln were blasted, carved and hewn 18 meters high into the rock at an altitude of 1800 meters. Nearly three million visitors come every year to see the enormous rock image.
Idea and selection of presidents
The idea for a monument to famous personalities came from the historian Doane Robinson. His idea was to boost tourism in the US state of South Dakota, which was rarely visited by tourists. However, Robinson did not think of presidents, but of well-known figures of the West such as the discoverers Lewis and Clark, the Indian chief Red Cloud or the bison hunter Buffalo Bill.
The sculptor was John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum, who rejected the original site for the monument at the so-called ”Needles” because the quality of the granite was not good enough for the works. The pointed rock spikes also did not offer enough space for four large stone heads. During his search, the sculptor finally came across Mount Rushmore. It was Borglum who had the idea for the presidents. He chose these four because they represented the first 130 years of American history and were committed to preserving the Republic and expanding the area.
The construction of the monument
After 14 long summers in which nearly 400 workers and helpers were involved in the construction and about 410,000 tons of rock were blown off, the four huge heads on the southeast side of Mount Rushmore were finished. That none of the workers died during construction is unusual for a project of this size. Borglum himself did not experience the opening of his factory because he died shortly before. His son Lincoln Borglum has been in charge of the works for the last few months. The monument was never completely completed – the plan was to extend the presidents to the waist. Due to lack of money, however, the project was stopped and at the same time declared completed.
The monument, also known as the ”Shrine of Democracy”, has not only met with approval. Supporters of the Lakota-Sioux Indian tribe see the National Memorial as a desecration of their sacred mountain and a breach of contract. The Black Hills area was part of the Fort Laramie Treaty, which awarded the mountain range, along with a larger area, to the Indians. In 1877, the United States broke the treaty because gold was found in the Black Hills. The Lakota were offered financial compensation in 1980, but the Indians refused because they wanted their land back.
The Lakota see the monument in their holy mountains as a provocation. Especially the picture of President Abraham Lincoln is problematic: In 1862 he ordered the biggest mass execution in US history, in which 38 Lakota Indians were hanged. In the meantime, the Lakota occupied the monument and erected a place of prayer on the top of the mountain. The construction of the Crazy Horse Memorial a few kilometers southwest of Mount Rushmore is also regarded as the Indian's response to the monument of the presidential heads.
The answer of the Lakota Indians: the Crazy Horse Memorial
Since 1948 work has been going on on a monument to the Indian chief Crazy Horse. When it is finished, the memorial will be almost ten times bigger than the presidential heads on Mount Rushmore. 195 meters long and 172 meters high, Crazy Horse is beaten into the rock sitting on his horse with his arm pointing east.
The then Lakota chief Henry Standing Bear invited Korczak Ziolkowski to build the Indian monument. The sculptor had already worked on the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. In the meantime the third generation of the family is involved in the construction and the work is progressing slowly.
The huge statue of the Lakota leader is not only popular with the Indians. Many are against a further treatment of the beautiful nature and do not want to place themselves with the Americans on a level. In addition, there is criticism that Crazy Horse never wanted to be photographed – so he probably didn't want a huge stone monument of his own. Due to the lack of images of the chief, it is also uncertain whether the sculpture really represents Crazy Horse.
Crazy Horse Memorial bigger than Mount Rushmore
Who is on the way in South Dakota should not miss both monuments. The huge sculptures carved in stone are definitely impressive – whether they are Indian chieftains or presidents.