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Mount Rushmore and Gutzon Borglum

Located in South Dakota, Mount Rushmore was crafted at roughly 60-ft. high of granite faces depict four U.S. presidents: George Washington; Thomas Jefferson; Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. The sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, designed the Mount Rushmore in 1925 at age 58. He chose the four presidents as they symbolize the principles of the liberty and freedom whereas the U.S.A as a nation was founded.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

First of the principles is the struggle for the independence and the birth of the Republic that relied heavily on the George Washington’s presidency. Then the second is the territorial expansion of the country as represented by the presidency of Thomas Jefferson. Abraham Lincoln, the third to symbolize the permanent union of the States. The fourth principle was represented by Theodore Roosevelt for the 20th-century role of the United States in world affairs and the rights of the common man.

Obviously, craving human faces onto a granite mountain was a dangerous project. It was reported that 90% of the carving done by dynamite after Borglum and his workers realized that using jackhammers were too slow. Even then, it took 14 years to complete the Mount Rushmore (1927 to 1941). Despite the dangerous tasks that the workers faced, there was no single death accident in 14 years of the making Mouth Rushmore. Sadly, many of the workers inhaled silica dust that led them to later die from the lung disease.

Gutzon Borglum

Borglum died before finishing the monument, and his work continued by his son, Lincoln Borglum. It was reported that Gutzon Borglum was in favor for white supremacist ideas. An American of Danish origin, Borglum wrote a letter that he fretted about a “mongrel horde” overrunning the “Nordic” purity of the West, and once said, “I would not trust an Indian, offhand, 9 out of 10, where I would not trust a white man 1 out of 10.” According to Smithsonian’s article, Borglum was found to align himself with Ku Klux Klan as well.

I found it was shocking to learn Borglum’s past history, a sculptor who created an impressive monument and had a pride of leadership that endorsed the principles of the liberty and freedom in the U.S., a country with enormous diversity. A paradox? Or maybe it justifies an idiom in Indonesia, “Tidak ada gading yang tidak retak“, “There is no ivory that is not cracked”. Everyone has stages in their life. Nothing and no one is perfect in this world, and perhaps that’s why pencils have erasers. While there are erasers, it’s also a matter of forgiveness to the imperfection of someone’s past and still pays respect to the magnitude work that he did to the country.


  1. So interesting to read about the history of this famous work, and about the artist’s not to clearcut backgrounds. I’ve heard that it looks much smaller and not as impressive in person? True? I’d still like to see it though… 🙂

    • It was huge sculptures, it’s just that the monument was pretty much straight forward to be seen. I meant, I thought we were going to hike or walking for a long path to get to see it – but the US-Americans are so efficient – they built the monument by considering people who hate walking or hiking – I guess 😀
      My suggestion is not to go to Mount Rushmore just to see the Mount Rushmore but also to include the Blackhills Forrest area and the interesting places as offered by South Dakota. South Dakota has beautiful nature. I love especially its national park, the Badlands. I will be back with a post about it 🙂

  2. interesting. and surprising facts on the artist. but this work/design of his certainly worthy of praises. one that i had yet a chance to visit in person.

  3. Wonderful overview. I had the pleasure of meeting one of the sculpturs when I visited the monument 5 years ago. He was just a kid while laboring on the mountain.

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