Podcast Episode 76: Mount Rushmore History and travel tips

grayscale photo of mans face concrete statue

Video: Mount Rushmore history

Mount Rushmore is a famous American landmark located in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It features the carved faces of four prominent U.S. presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. The idea for the monument was conceived by South Dakota historian Doane Robinson in the early 1920s as a way to attract tourists to the state. Sculptor Gutzon Borglum was chosen to design and carve the massive sculptures, which began in 1927 and took 14 years to complete.

The choice of presidents was significant, representing key periods in American history: Washington for the founding era, Jefferson for westward expansion, Roosevelt for conservation and the progressive era, and Lincoln for preserving the Union during the Civil War. Mount Rushmore was officially dedicated on October 31, 1941.

Today, Mount Rushmore is a symbol of American democracy and a popular tourist destination, drawing millions of visitors each year who come to admire both the artistic achievement and the historical significance of the monument.


Ep76 rushmore v2

Ep76 Rushmore

[00:00:00] Scott: You know what we need to do? What? I need to look up what the name of the show was. That on that SNL skit with Alec Baldwin, which is sweaty balls Forget the name of the show. Yeah, he was supposed to be on you know, which is a visitor Yeah, he’s a visitor for some cooking show. It was a

[00:00:17] Jenn: cooking. It’s the late night.

[00:00:18] Yeah cooking show

[00:00:31] Scott: Welcome to talk with history Hi, I’m your host, Scott, here with my wife and historian, Jen. Hello. On this podcast, we give you insights into our history inspired world travels, YouTube channel journey, and examine history through deeper conversations with the curious, the explorers, and the history lovers out there.

[00:00:51] Now, today, Jen, I just looked up our reviews on Apple Podcasts, and people have been listening to me, and they’ve been leaving us some Apple. It’s Apple podcast reviews listening to me on this podcast and me begging for Apple reviews. So I’m going to read a couple of these out all five star reviews, which I truly appreciate.

[00:01:11] This first one is from Jode writer or Jody writer, great topics and fun discussion. Five stars. Loved the episode on the Oregon trail. Love the info on Fort Laramie. The hosts really played well on each other. The next one is from mom’s overcoming overwhelm. History comes alive five stars history comes alive with husband and wife team Scott and Jen They have a great rapport and are passionate about sharing little known history with listeners I also like the audio that is weaved into the episodes.

[00:01:42] Thank you for that I really as me as the producer. I really appreciate that It feels very NPR ish in the best way informative entertaining and engaging Great job, Scott and Jen, Sincerely, Emily. Emily, thank you for the thorough review. I really do appreciate the little aside on the production side of things, because I do, I try to put effort into it when I can.

[00:02:05] Last one is from HeyHeyRayJay. with a bunch of numbers at the end. Wow. Five stars. The show I didn’t know I needed. I love history and this entire concept and production is fantastic. So thank you to the three of you and to people who’ve left podcast reviews for us on Apple podcasts or five star reviews on Spotify or elsewhere before we have been seeing an upload and uptick in our download numbers.

[00:02:30] And so we truly appreciate that. Just

[00:02:40] moving straight into the topic because it’s. going to be obvious from the episode title. We went and visited Mount Rushmore, the classic place for family, families here in the States to take their kids to, to do it. I did it when I was probably Maybe 14, 15, and now we finally got to take our family to this Incredibly historic and kind of significant American Icon American West icon car trip.

[00:03:07] Yeah place. Yes a Mount

[00:03:09] Jenn: Rushmore. It’s very well visited I think we talked about it has 2. 5 million visitors a year. They’re hoping to top Uh, three million here in the next coming year. It is the quintessential American road trip destination part of the trip. It’s in the lower Southwest part of South Dakota in the Black Hills area.

[00:03:30] So if you’re hitting Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Custer Battlefield, Devil’s Tower, they’re all in the general vicinity. That’s why it’s It coincides with a road trip.

[00:03:41] Scott: Well, and the nice thing is, and that I just didn’t realize about it, it’s a very quick and easy visit. It is. It’s not a huge, the, the core of Mount Rushmore, if you’ve never been, or if you’re thinking about going either this summer or next summer in the future, whenever you’re listening to this episode, it’s a very easy visit.

[00:03:58] You park close, you don’t have to walk far and bam, right there is Mount Rushmore. It’s right. It has

[00:04:03] Jenn: a, a. The quintessential view is the first view. So like you said, it’s a national memorial. It’s basically four faces of American presidents carved into the side of a mountain in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

[00:04:18] And the parking is what you pay for. It’s free to visit. And then you walk straight in and you have this avenue of flags that kind of frame. Mount Rushmore. So it’s very easy to walk, especially if you have somebody who is disabled or needs a wheelchair. It’s all flat. It takes you right there. It’s it’s very simple, easy thing to visit.

[00:04:41] And they have other things for you. If you want to walk, you can do a walk around. Like

[00:04:47] Scott: a little hike. Like a little hike. Yeah, you can go down to the base. It doesn’t get you close to the faces because those, they’re pretty, those are up pretty high. Yes. There, there is, there is like a little mini hike, what

[00:04:56] Jenn: is it, like a mile?

[00:04:57] Yeah, it’s like a mile around, I think it’s also still, there’s stairs along it so it’s not

[00:05:01] as

[00:05:01] Scott: flat. And it has, does it have like displays and kind of information

[00:05:04] Jenn: along the way? The one thing you hit is the sculptor’s studio. So the sculptor was Gutson Borglum. His studio is there, it’s, it was at the base of the mountain anyway, so they have kept it as a historical landmark and then you can walk through the, the, his studio.

[00:05:20] But if you just go to the visitor center, there’s a really great visitor center. There’s a grand view terrace underneath the terrace with an elevator is the kind of museum where they have some of the artifacts and tools and models, old models, things they use to build it. And a kind of brief descriptor of why these four presidents were chosen and some pictures, pictures of before and after.

[00:05:45] And so that is all right there in the area. Plus the amphitheater. If you go at night during the summer, like we did, they do a little production where they put on a movie. And they light up the mountain and that’s that’s just in the summer months they do that in the winter months They light up the mountain rated sunset for like an hour and then but they don’t do the production, but that’s what the amp.

[00:06:08] Scott: Yeah and so that’s we actually did the Evening visit first because we were there Staying in the Black Hills area with like a little family reunion from my side of the family. Mm hmm And so we visited during the evening, which was great. Cause it’s beautiful. It’s not that it’s not humid out there. It was absolutely gorgeous.

[00:06:25] And in the summertime, we were there in June and. So we went there before sunset, we got up there, we picked a spot at the top of the amphitheater, and the ranger who spoke, I think it was either just before or just after the film, actually had a really cool personal story of why he became a ranger and why he went there.

[00:06:43] So that was really neat. Just, it made it more personal. And then the film itself was maybe five minutes, maybe a couple minutes, but it was. incredibly patriotic. Yes. And then they actually call a bunch of veterans down or, you know, active duty servicemen, women. We didn’t go. We were all the way at the top.

[00:06:59] So we didn’t walk down, but they had a bunch come down and they like, they pulled the flag. They hold the flag down and they folded it and everybody, it was, it was just so quintessentially American road trip. Yes, summer vacation thing. It just made me smile the whole time. It was, it was really cool.

[00:07:16] Jenn: It was really cool.

[00:07:16] And they also do something significant there. They do a lot of naturalization ceremonies for people who become citizens. Oh, that’s cool. Of America. They usually do one a month and they use the amphitheater for that as well. That’s neat.

[00:07:33] But let’s talk about this shrine to democracy because that is the name of what this Sculpture is of the four presidents. Yes. Called the Shrine to Democracy.

[00:07:43] Scott: And we do have, and and after you listen to this podcast, I encourage you to go watch our video. ’cause obviously we made a video on this and we cover a lot of how this came to be.

[00:07:53] Jenn: Yes. So Mount Rushmore, what I find so interesting about Mount Rushmore is the name. Right? Like, it’s called Mount Rushmore. Well, why? Who? Who’s Rushmore? And why? So this is part of the Black Hills, and we talked about Fort Laramie. We had a really great review for Fort Laramie. So the Treaty of Fort Laramie, 1868, gives this area to the Lakota Sioux.

[00:08:16] This is like a Lakota Sioux land. But what happens is that gold is found here here and gold is found here. Custer will lead an expedition. He hits the top of one of these mountains in the area, finds gold, brings all these people in. And

[00:08:32] Scott: he’s about Deadwood. Yeah. Right. We have past episodes on Deadwood if you want to listen to those.

[00:08:36] Exactly. Wild Bill Cock and all that stuff. All these things are happening at the same time.

[00:08:41] Jenn: It triggers this gold rush in about 1874. And you’re going to get this, the Sioux war of 1876. We talked about the battle of the bighorn battle, greasy grass, and In 1877, there’s a treaty that breaks Fort Laramie, right?

[00:08:55] The American government’s like, Oh, this gold here. Well, we want this back. So instead of one big reservation, we’re going to give you a six little ones and we’re going to take back this area. So you have prospectors who come out to mine the area and you have an attorney named Charles E. Rushmore who visits the area to confirm his company’s land claims.

[00:09:18] And he’s out there in about 1884 and he saw this mountain is called the Six Grandfathers. By the Lakota Sioux American Indians, and it’s called the Six Grandfathers because it’s supposed to represent Six different directions north south east west the sky above and the earth below so the six grandfathers So he’s looking at this mountain as he’s mapping and charting with his guide and he asked the guide What’s the name of that mountain and the guy said it doesn’t have a name And so the guy says so from here on out we’re gonna call it Mount Rushmore after you.

[00:09:47] It was just a

[00:09:48] Scott: classic, I was here first

[00:09:49] Jenn: type thing. Yeah. So he’s like, okay. And so the name Mount Rushmore continued to be used locally. And then it’s put on as a geographic area in 1930. It’s called Mount Rushmore. So it’s this attorney for claims for this company that it’s named after and we use the name so easily and quintessentially today, even though the the sculpture that is called the Shrine to Democracy.

[00:10:14] We don’t call it the Shrine to Democracy. We call it Mount Rushmore. So it’s just interesting that that person who really is just there by happenstance gets this, this landmark that’s visited so much named after them.

[00:10:32] You have in South Dakota, they want to bring tourists. You have the gold rush and, uh, you have this, uh, fellow named Dorn, who’s a Dorn mountain pass, uh, decides, uh, we want to start to bring people into South Dakota and I want to have something sculpted here. I think if we have something sculpted on some of these mountains, it’ll bring tourists in and they look around.

[00:10:56] for sculptors and you get it. Finally, they settle on Goodson Borglum and Borglum is famous. He’s done a couple of sculptures, but at the time he’s building the shrine to the confederacy. Yeah. You said that’s in Georgia, Georgia Stone Mountain. We’ve never visited. I show pictures of it. Yes. And it’s supposed, I think it’s like Lee.

[00:11:19] Scott: Jackson. It’s, it’s, it’s big. Yes. It’s not as big as Rushmore. Yeah. But it’s, it’s, if you picture it in your mind, like you’re looking at a computer screen and it’s basically the side of kind of a large sloping mountain, but it’s really just carved out of the side. It’s not as three dimensional as Mount Rushmore is.

[00:11:35] Jenn: It’s not quite as a big, uh,

[00:11:37] Scott: It’s more of like a, like a picture, like a 3D picture type carving in the side of

[00:11:43] Jenn: a mountain. Yes. Like a, definitely like a precursor to Rushmore. I think it’s like Lee, Davis and Stonewall Jackson, right? On their horses. So and it’s still there today. So They, they ask him and bring him out and he, they want him to do the Needles Highway, which is like these thin little mountains and carve each thin little mountain as a figure.

[00:12:04] But he’s, he says, I don’t think those will sustain dynamite blasting. So these mountains, you have to blast away the fragile rock in front to get to the granite that’s inside because the granite inside is what is. The strong stone that’s going to hold this kind of sculpting picture and the Needles Highway are thin.

[00:12:24] Plus, in the beginning, they have, Dorn has this idea, Doan Robinson, that’s his name, has this idea. He wants Lewis and Clark. He wants Sacagawea. He wants the Ogallala Lakota Chief Red Cloud. He wants Buffalo Bill Cody, Buffalo Bill

[00:12:38] Scott: Cody. And think if you think about it at the time, think of that generation.

[00:12:44] Those are larger than life Western historic figures that everybody knew. We’ve, we have a couple episodes on Buffalo Bill Cody, right, a podcast and a video. Like he, Buffalo Bill Cody was world renowned famous. So I can absolutely see how in that area of the country like, oh yeah, the Western figures and I actually thought it was neat that he was recommending Sacagawea, Sacagawea in Indian Native American

[00:13:12] Jenn: leaders.

[00:13:12] So he chose those leaders because when you think about it. South Dakota is here because of the Louisiana Purchase and The Louisiana Purchase was explored by Lewis and Clark in Sacajawea Buffalo Bill Cody is the reason why people even know the West and I know you’re probably like no, that’s not you No, it is if you watch our episode about go back and

[00:13:32] Scott: find our old podcast episode

[00:13:33] Jenn: the reason why people know the West as as we know it today is is because of Buffalo Bill Cody, who educated people on the West.

[00:13:41] And so you can see why he chose those figures, but Borglum didn’t think they had mass appeal. And so he recommends they should have a broader appeal, and he recommends four presidents. And he recommends four presidents because of what they signify. So, he picks George Washington of this idea of birth of our country.

[00:14:01] He picks Thomas Jefferson as an idea of growth for our country. Theodore Roosevelt, I think who’s, I think it’s Borglum’s favorite president, as preservation for the company, for the country. And then Abraham Lincoln for development, basically saving. our country. So you got George Washington, the first president, uh, Thomas Jefferson, the third, Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th, and Abraham Lincoln, the 16th.

[00:14:31] So, and they’ve each served in their own kind of respective times, when you think about it. Even though Thomas Jefferson, George Washington are pretty close, Lincoln’s the end of the 1800s, and you got Roosevelt, the very beginning of the 1900s. And at first they’re supposed to be carved down to their waist.

[00:14:49] But we’ll talk about why that didn’t happen. Um, and Theodore Roosevelt was supposed to be on the other side of George Washington. As they start to carve, they realize, uh, that that rock is too thin, so they move him to the other side. So it’s a lot of like, when you get into it, and he starts to blast, and he starts to carve, he’s gonna have to, you know, adjust his, his picture.

[00:15:21] Scott: Well, and it was interesting too, and I know we’re stepping into this, this topic next year. But. One of our, our patrons actually, if you’re interested, we have a Patreon page where we try to give extra attention to those folks over at patreon. com slash walk with history. So Rick, uh, is one of our, our patrons and he commented on the video and you and I still need to look further into this, but he commented on how, you know, some.

[00:15:50] Native American folk in the area at the time took the president’s, some of the president’s, specifically Theodore Roosevelt, as an affront because that’s sacred land to them. Obviously, to this day, they’re still, they still believe it’s theirs and that they should get the land back. And we’ll talk a little bit about the details there.

[00:16:07] But his point, and I don’t know if this is true, so we’ll look into it. But if anybody’s listening, knows more about this, shoot, shoot me an email. There’s contact information in the show notes. He said that Teddy, because it was Teddy Roosevelt and Teddy Roosevelt really didn’t have any good things to say about, for the most part, Native Americans.

[00:16:27] Yeah, there were, there were some quotes. He, Rick put in there and Rick brings up a lot of really good historic points. Like he writes us long comments in some of our videos that we appreciate. So he brought up that, that some Native, Native Americans really saw this as a true affront, which is some of the controversy behind these.

[00:16:46] figures being

[00:16:47] Jenn: up there. Sure. So, I mean, the Shrine of Democracy to some American Indians is called the Shrine of Hypocrisy. And they call it that because, first of all, it’s not even American land. It’s not even federal land. It’s their land. They never agreed to the change of the Treaty of Fort Laramie.

[00:17:07] They, in the lawsuit of 1980, when the Sioux demanded return of the land, and the Supreme Court ruled in favor of them being awarded 102 million for the land, they never took the money. The money has now grown to over a billion dollars, and they still do not take the money because they want the land. So, for them, for the hypocrisy, it’s like you have…

[00:17:29] Refused money, and we want the land, and you have carved into our sacred Six Grandfathers Mountain. So, there has been an American Indian medicine man who has gone to the top of Mount Rushmore and placed a staff. And they have done some prayer, some, some ceremonies up there, but yeah, they call it the shrine of hypocrisy because it’s, it’s their land that you have carved into.

[00:17:56] And yes, for who Teddy, each, each president has something that they can point to. And if you want to talk American history, we can really get into what had George Washington, what had Theodore, what is it? I mean. Theodore Roosevelt had done. Even Abraham Lincoln had American Indians executed. So, each one of them has been an affront to the American Indian culture.

[00:18:20] So, that’s why they call it the shrine of hypocrisy. And even today, uh, and again, we talked about that with the crazy horse, because here they are defacing a something of beauty

[00:18:35] Scott: and of yeah, what some would say is defacing what others would say is honoring. Yeah, I think it was It’s standing bear, chief standing bear that, that we said in, in last week’s episode about crazy horse that said, Hey, I want to build this thing in this mountain and we want to use crazy horse.

[00:18:52] But then you pointed out he never talked to the family. Yeah. There’s always two sides to

[00:19:05] this and it’s, it’s a delicate balance and as you say many times on the channel and on the podcast, it’s not for really us here to pass judgment. We’re here to talk about the facts and, and. a true good historian like yourself is not putting a bias on each thing. You’re you’re giving context and you’re explaining each sides and exploring each side.

[00:19:26] Jenn: And we we tend to be campers and hikers and we’re always like leave no trace. And you’re definitely leaving a trace. Yeah, when you

[00:19:32] Scott: carve a face in a mountain.

[00:19:35] Jenn: So it’s it is it’s just having that conversation, right? Because I will say when you go there, you are overcome with patriotism. It’s

[00:19:43] Scott: You can’t avoid it.

[00:19:44] You can’t

[00:19:44] Jenn: avoid it. It’s beautiful. And it is they when they blast the American the national anthem and The lights on it and then all the flags leading up to it. It’s emotional It is something that’s really patriotic to see and I can see why some people take their oath of American citizenship there So it is I can see both sides and I want to make sure I’m representing both sides here.

[00:20:17] And then when you get into conversations about why is this, why was this so quick to be completed? Crazy Horse isn’t. Let’s talk about federal funding. So the federal government helped fund Mount Rushmore, Borglum got money, and he was able to pay people definitely during the 1930s, during the Depression.

[00:20:38] They had no fatalities, so people worked on this mountain. He basically hired people who had no experience. They were unemployed, and they worked on this mountain with him, and he took care of them and their families, and nobody died. And that, that is a good thing. The phases began in 1927. And the president’s faces were completed between 1934 and 1939.

[00:21:00] As each face was complete, they did a dedication ceremony for each one. And then Gutenberg will die in March of 1941, and his son Lincoln will take over construction. Now it’s completed because of last. the lack of the funding, the federal funding lacks there in 1941, brink of war, they don’t go all the way to the waist.

[00:21:22] So when you think about, okay, why did they not complete this? It’s 1941.

[00:21:26] Scott: Yeah, you can see what George Washington has started to see like the part of his jacket, but the others they didn’t.

[00:21:33] Jenn: So it’s officially ends October 31 1941. And not even two months later, we’re going to enter World War Two. So you can see why this funding will end.

[00:21:44] Now the Visitor Center is the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center underneath. So that’s the son of Gutzon Borglum and he’s the one who continues the construction and that is something that you’re going to see. Same thing with Crazy Horse. The family takes over the rest of the construction and the family still constructs it today.

[00:22:02] So this is something I thought was very interesting. It’s like a family. Occupation to be this kind of sculptor of rock and magic. It’s a, it’s a

[00:22:09] Scott: family legacy. Mm-hmm. , I mean, you can’t avoid it. Like if, if you’re a, let’s say the, the children or the grandchildren of someone who is known to embody this project, like Gtz and Borlin, why, I, I, I can say why not, right?

[00:22:24] Mm-hmm. from an outsider’s perspective, but that’s quite a family legacy to, to be

[00:22:27] Jenn: a part of. Yes. And like I said, he had. It began in October of 1927. It’s finished October 31st, 1941. So that’s about 14 years.

[00:22:38] Scott: And he passed away only like a little bit before it’s finished.

[00:22:40] Jenn: Only a little bit before it’s finished.

[00:22:42] And his 400 workers, each face is about 60 feet high. The noses are about 20 feet long, eyes are 50, 11 feet wide, and the mouths are 18 feet wide. So it’s. It is even a little smaller than Crazy Horse for scale. And unlike Crazy Horse 2, it’s only really one sided. But he picks, because the Needles Highway was so thin and he sees the Six Grandfathers Mountain, he picks that mountain because it gets the light all day.

[00:23:10] And that is another thing, the best time to take photographs of Rushmore is in the morning because you get the best morning light on it. Um, and the National Park Service takes over in 1933. And it’s been a part of the National Park Service since then. And they do certain things, they’ve updated it, they’ve sandblasted the face and they keep it up.

[00:23:31] But it’s been, tourism is a big thing for it, but it’s been in a couple movies, right? So the most famous is North by Northwest with Cary Grant, the Alfred Hitchcock movie, where he’s hanging off the face at one point, which that’s all in a soundstage in Hollywood. But they actually do go if you, if you visit and you’re in the visitor center area, whether you can get great ice cream there and food there, they’re actually in that area in the movie.

[00:24:00] So in North by Northwest, Northwest. So that part is actually filmed there. Yeah. And

[00:24:04] Scott: then was it national treasure too? National treasure. Supposedly they’re up there. finding like the hidden symbols and stuff like that. Yes.

[00:24:11] Jenn: Yeah. So it’s still very popular today. And when you think of like, there’s, there’s some big, when people come to America, I want to see some national monuments of America.

[00:24:21] You’re going to think of Statue of Liberty, you’re going to think of Lincoln Memorial, Rushmore is usually the third. So when it comes to visiting, again, it is this, it is a very big tourist attraction. And if you can see in our video, there’s a lot of people there from all parts of America. And all types of people, all ages of people, which I think is a really great illustration of what America represents.

[00:24:44] So it was really great to visit. And, um, I was honored to bring my family there. Yeah,

[00:24:49] Scott: it was it was just an absolute blast. And as a kid who went there, a husband and now a father bringing my kids there just full circle moment. It just made me smile the whole time, not only because I was filming and doing that stuff with you guys, but because now my kids one day can say, Oh, I visited Mount Rushmore.

[00:25:07] And so hopefully if you’re listening to this podcast, maybe you’re even on your way driving out into to visit South Dakota and the Black Hills and to visit this kind of iconic American staple of summer vacations in representation, like you said, of democracy in our country. So thank you for listening to the talk with history podcast and please reach out to us at our website, talkwithhistory.

[00:25:32] com. But more importantly, if you know someone else that might enjoy this podcast, please share it with them. Especially if you think that today’s topic would interest a friend, shoot him a text, tell him to look us up. We rely on you, our community to grow, and we appreciate you all every day. We’ll talk to you next time.

[00:25:48] Thank you.

Published by Scott

The mountains are calling, let me grab a jacket and my kids.

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