As the artist Gutzon Borglum originally envisioned it, Mount Rushmore was to include an inscription to explain the sculpture to future archaeologists. The Entablature, as he called it, would describe the history of the United States in 500 words. President Calvin Coolidge was invited to write the text, but Borglum alienated Coolidge forever by rejecting his submission.
Borglum then decided to hold a contest -- and the American public submitted over 100,000 histories of the United States. The overall winner was John Edward Bradley, and the college-age winner was William Burkett, but Borglum hated their entries as much as he'd hated President Coolidge's. The mountain carving proceeded without the Entablature, and today the heads stand out from the rock without a single word of text next to them.
In 2002, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE held a competition asking viewers to send in their own inscriptions for Mount Rushmore. Here are the winning entries and a few of our favorites.
Larry Feldman-First place winner
Hometown: Marlboro, New Jersey
"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." - Gutzon Borglum
These words, spoken by the artist who sculptured the Mount Rushmore Monument, summaries the motivation behind his creation. They allude to the traditional practice of depicting leaders perched on high, looking up to heaven for inspiration, visible to all citizens for inspiration. But, either by subconscious design or happenstance, this monument functions in a very different manner. It reinforces that the principles of these leaders are part of the landscape of this country-truly part of its bedrock.
The image of President Washington reminds us of his personal strength and endurance in maintaining an army in the face of overwhelming opposition. That army was facing annihilation from the opposition, the elements, and even from the bureaucracy of many of our early political leaders. He endured-and fought on for victory, and the birth of a new nation. His personal strength also held that nation together in times of uncertainty during his presidency. This was a time without civil precedents, where his strength of character and sound judgment alone had to fill the void.
From Thomas Jefferson, we are reminded of the true democratic principles and the natural rights that belong to the citizens of this country. These are the ideas that this president gave voice to from his earliest days as a statesman, to his authoring of the Declaration of Independence, through his term as president of a young country. They are the principles that found their way into our constitution and our national conscience. They were easily exported to other nations seeking a roadmap from authoritarianism to a society based on human dignity and rights.
Teddy Roosevelt gives hope to all of those souls seeking to overcome their own personal limitations -- just as Roosevelt overcame his physical limits early in his childhood. Here is the monument to rugged individualism-seeking adventure, righting the wrongs of society, and appealing to the individual characters of our citizens from his "bully pulpit."
And finally, from President Lincoln, we observe the devotion of a man to the dignity and integrity of this nation and its citizens -- all of its citizens! He took a nation seeking to split in two, and gave his life so that the singular entity that is the United States would endure. Further, it would continue to endure with the promise of equality for all of its people.
Endurance, Democracy, Individualism, and National Integrity are fundamental characteristics of this nation and its bedrock foundation. These are the attributes that the artist has carved into our national landscape, our national identity -- to last for the centuries. The faces look out in different directions so that all will hear. They are grounded in a common base-the rock of this country.
Christopher A . Porricelli- Honorable Mention
Hometown: Brick, NJ
One nation, under God. A simple, yet effective motto to symbolize our country, America. To take four words and make them represent one people, takes glory and among that, takes pride. This mountain is blessed with four presidents out of an infinite number, that will, like others, bless our country with hope and praise, yet help people for who they are or who they will be one day. May this mountain be more than engraved rock, and may it represent a piece of American culture for years to come. May freedom ring from this stone, and may every human who steps on American soil feel free, for that is who we are; how we choose to live.
With forefathers President George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln standing more than tall, the United States of America starts a memorial of the birth and growth of the development of our country and only the unbounded possibilities we can accomplish. With the past behind us, the present around us, and the future ahead, we will always remember our country's motto and purpose, here, in this world. Among many other statues of our 'liberty', Mount Rushmore should be blessed with American pride and praise.
Our fellow brothers and sisters, for us to let such a beautiful monument pass us by would be far beyond cruelty, and instead we should think of the more constructive ideas to keep these fleeting memorials up and rising. One day we will pass, and new and energetic people will enter, when we are not here to tell stories and pass the truth, let our statues of freedom, our memorials of liberty, and our culture lead these innovative people into unrestrained potential.
Now our history is recorded, now our past is told, and we, the people of America, may surpass this great nation's genuineness to the pioneering people of the future. With four fore founders of this country here to stay, forever, here to represent our country for years to come we must sanctify them and only move on to exceed the expectations of others. We, the people, need to bless this and other memorial sites, for one day others will cherish it too. We know we are one nation, and above all, we are one nation under God. One God, one people; may God Bless America.
Paul Jacob Foy- Honorable Mention
FOREVER UNITED, FOREVER AS ONE
Ms. Wells' 3rd grade class- Honorable Mention
Austin, Jae, Michelle, Zachary, Jekiaya, Kashif, Jennifer, Taylor, Ashlea, Alicia, Chisom, Kara, Corey, Paul, Amanda, Ahmad, Savannah, Charles, Nick, and Rachel
Age: 3rd graders
Hometown: McDonough, GA
The watchers of our nation, four former presidents of the United States of America. George Washington was the first president. Thomas Jefferson was responsible for the Louisiana Purchase. Theodore Roosevelt was the nation's first environmentalist. Abraham Lincoln was responsible for preserving the United States during the Civil War.
Like the four incredible men on this huge rock, this country stands for freedom, honesty, peace, and courage.
God Bless America.
The person who carved Mount Rushmore was named Gutzon Borglum.
Steph Cavagnaro- Honorable Mention
Hometown: Southold, NY
When feats of man both large and small are etched in stone for the glory of us all, through time they pass, through troubles they endure, and so proud are the faces on Mount Rushmore...
Patricia Ann Gaines
Homtown: Indianapolis, Indiana
Representing America's solid foundation by which this country was formed. Here so carved in granite and firmly poised are giants of this great nation's past.
Hometown: Wilmington, Delaware
The thoughts and ideals of humans are the foundation of great nations.
Hometown: Alton, Illinois
FOR GOD, COUNTRY AND THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, WHOM WE SO PROUDLY SERVE.
Hometown: Minneapolis, Minnesota
This monument pays tribute to great men and their accomplishments. Remember that there is no future or present without the past.
Hometown: Houston, Texas
In the openness of a nation's heart, the inheritances of previous generations passed on to future generations, set forth in this mountainside are four of the national leaders to whom the next generations owe their inheritances.
Many have followed, and many more shall. These leaders represent the spirit, courage, and wisdom of a self-governing people. From their strength and example, find spirit. From their bravery and might, find courage. From their legacies and lives, find wisdom.
For in order for this nation to persevere, requires that every future generation take up the same sword of righteousness, the same light of liberty, and the same love of freedom. For what shall a man gain if he inherit the world if he loses his soul? Indeed, the inheritance of the world is the preservation of the freedom these leaders shaped and protected, and shall forever more be the soul of the United States of America.
Hometown: Virginia Beach, Virginia
Carved here, intended to stand forever, these great men represent everything that America stands for -- courage, character, commitment. That is the message we all must remember.
Hometown: Fremont, California
Great Leaders of a Great Land and a Great People. May our liberties, freedoms, our values last as long as stone itself.
Jolene A. Darnold
Hometown: Odell, Nebraska
Hometown: Palm Desert, California
THESE FOUR PRESIDENTS COULD NOT OF BEEN MORE DIFFERENT IN THEIR POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY, BUT STOOD SHOULDER TO SHOULDER IN THE UNWAVERING PASSION FOR THE IDEAL OF DEMOCRACY. NOT UNLIKE THE MANY PEOPLE OF THIS GREAT COUNTRY WHO HAVE IMMIGRATED FROM ACROSS THE GLOBE WITH THEIR OWN CUSTOMS, RELIGIONS, AND PREJUDICES THAT MAGICALLY UNITE, NOT AS ONE VOICE, BUT MANY IN THIS GREAT COUNTRY, AMERICA!
Geoge L. Drake
Hometown: El Cajon, California
The future is our FREEDOM. The past is our BILL OF RIGHTS. We are all small at some time, but greatness is there for all of us.
My American Experience
From the Empire State Buiding to the carvings on Mount Rushmore, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Space Needle, the U.S. has dozens of impressive, important, and iconic structures. Which ones have you been to? Which has had the biggest impact?