One piece of Gutzon Borglum's plan was completed more than 50 years after his death. In designing Mount Rushmore, the artist had envisioned a Hall of Records, cut into the rock of the monument and containing documents that would explain the meaning of the sculpted heads to any future archaeologists.
The Borglum family continued to press for this element, even after Gutzon's death in 1941. Eventually, the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Society, a non-profit organization, agreed to fund the carving of chamber that would hold a teakwood box containing 16 porcelain panels filled with text. On August 9, 1998, Mary Ellis Vhay, Gutzon's daughter, and three more generations of Borglums were present as the panels were placed into the box, and a 1,200-pound capstone was laid on top.
Sealed in the Hall of Records are both original texts and copies of important American documents. The first is a statement about the memorial itself:
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Images of four United States Presidents were carved into a mountain called "Mount Rushmore" by sculptor Gutzon Borglum and almost 400 workmen who labored from 1927 through 1941.
Entombed here in southwestern South Dakota in the year 1998 are records of why and how this mountain was carved. Also included are important documents related to the history and growth of the United States of America in relation to these four presidents.
Borglum once wrote:
"We believe the dimensions of national heartbeats are greater than village impulses, greater than state dreams or ambitions. Therefore we believe a nation's memorial should, like Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt, have a serenity, a nobility, a power that reflects the gods who inspired them and suggests the gods they have become.
"As for sculptured mountains - Civilization, even its fine arts, is, most of it, quantity-produced stuff: education, law, government, wealth - each is enduring only as the day. Too little of it lasts into tomorrow and tomorrow is strangely the enemy of today, as today has already begun to forget buried yesterday. Each succeeding civilization forgets its predecessor, and out of its body builds its homes, its temples. Civilizations are ghouls. Egypt was pulled apart by its successor; Greece was divided among the Romans; Rome was pulled to pieces by bigotry and bitterness much of which was engendered its own empire building.
"I want, somewhere in America, on or near the Rockies, the backbone of the Continent, so far removed from succeeding, selfish, coveting civilizations, a few feet of stone that bears witness, carries the likeness, the dates, a word or two of the great things we accomplished as a Nation, placed so high it won't pay to pull them down for lesser purposes.
"Hence, 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."
Then follows a brief biography of George Washington and then the text of the United States Constitution, including the Bill of Rights. A biography of Thomas Jefferson includes the text of the Declaration of Independence. Abraham Lincoln's life is accompanied by the text of the Gettysburg Address. A short life of Theodore Roosevelt follows. The rest of the Hall of Records documents include a series of essays:
• "How the Memorial was Completed," describing the history of the idea and subsequent carving of Rushmore
• "The Work Involved to Create the Figures," on the physical shaping of the monument
• "Mount Rushmore Sculptor Gutzon Borglum," a biography of the artist
• "The Meaning of Mount Rushmore,"a history of the United States
This last essay begins:
"The four American presidents carved into the granite of Mount Rushmore were chosen by sculptor Gutzon Borglum to commemorate the founding, growth, preservation and development of the United States. They symbolize the principles of liberty and freedom on which the nation was founded. George Washington signifies the struggle for independence and the birth of the Republic; Thomas Jefferson the territorial expansion of the country; Abraham Lincoln the permanent union of the states and equality for all citizens; and Theodore Roosevelt, the 20th century role of the United States in world affairs and the rights of the common man."
The essay continues with a brief history of the nation's first 150 years, which is "not meant to be a scholarly version of American history, but to weave the four presidents on Mount Rushmore into the early and important events of America's development." The history then ends with four quotes:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." --Thomas Jefferson Declaration of Independence July 4, 1776
"The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people." -- George Washington First Inaugural Address April 20, 1789
"It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." -- Abraham Lincoln Gettysburg Address November 19, 1863
"We, here in America, hold in our hands the hopes of the worlds, the fate of the coming years; and shame and disgrace will be ours if in our eyes the light of high resolve is dimmed, if we trail in the dust the golden hopes of men." -- Theodore Roosevelt Address at Carnegie Hall March 30, 1912
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?