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Honoring our Nation’s History — a Trip to Mt. Rushmore

This past month for my birthday I asked Tracy if we could visit Mt. Rushmore in Keystone, South Dakota. I had been inspired to travel there while watching our nation’s Fourth of July celebrations last year when Governor Kristi Noem hosted President Trump and the First Lady. It was an inspiring, patriotic celebration and it set off a desire to add it to my “bucket list”. When friends from Amarillo said they had driven there last summer, I was hooked. (Tracy decided to expand the trip and “hop” over to Jackson Hole, WY since we would already be so far north. There is no such thing as “hopping” across the vast expanse of Wyoming, but we had a wonderful trip.)

Approaching the entry, and first seeing the massive images carved in granite brought me to tears. There was such an appreciation of this great gift that is America, birthed in our covenant with God, and her magnificence was on display right in front of me. Workers at Mt. Rushmore physically sculpted, through the rock and soil, a landmark that people from across the nation and around the world would travel to see for generations to come. I was now part of the legacy of this project of colossal proportion, colossal ambition and colossal achievement.

The Artist

John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum liked to tinker with his own legend, subtracting a few years from his age, changing the story of his parentage. The best archival research has revealed that he was born in 1867 to one of the wives of a Danish Mormon bigamist.

Borglum was stubborn, insistent, temperamental, perfectionist, high-reaching, and proud — but these were also the characteristics that were required to carve a mountain. Big, brash, almost larger than life, only a man like Gutzon Borglum could have conceived of and created the monument on Mount Rushmore.

On March 6, 1941, Borglum died, following complications after surgery, after having spent the last 14 years of his life working on Mr. Rushmore (1927-1941). His son finished another season at Rushmore, but left the monument largely in the state of completion it had reached under his father’s direction.

Why these Four Presidents?

Gutzon Borglum selected these four presidents because, from his perspective, they represented the most important events in the history of the United States. 

He chose George Washington to represent the birth of the United States, Thomas Jefferson to represent the growth of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt to represent the development of the United States and Abraham Lincoln to represent the preservation of the United States.

Construction

The four granite faces were carved by over 400 workers under the supervision of Borglum. Each face is about 60 feet high; if the bodies were to be included, each figure would be about 460 feet high. 90% of the mountain was carved using dynamite. The powdermen would cut and set charges of dynamite of specific sizes to remove precise amounts of rock. They would drill holes and set dynamite all morning long, clear the mountain, and set off the explosions. The afternoon schedule would repeat the process.

Workers in the winch house on top of the mountain would hand crank the winches to raise and lower the drillers. (Watching the video of these men dangling over the edge of the mountain definitely triggered some anxiety about heights!!) During the 14 years of construction, not one fatality occurred. Quite remarkable. Workers had to endure conditions that varied from blazing hot to bitter cold and windy. Each day they climbed 700 stairs to the top of the mountain to punch-in on the time clock.

Famous Quotes

On the hike to the base of the mountain can be found famous quotes that included the following:

“Never did a prisoner, released from his chains, feel such relief as I shall on shaking off the shackles of power. Nature intended me for the tranquil pursuits of science, by rendering them my supreme delight. But the enormities of the times in which I have lived, have forced me to take a part in resisting them, and to commit myself on the boisterous ocean of political passions.” – Thomas Jefferson

“Perhaps the two most striking things in the presidency are the immense power of the President, in the first place; and in the second place, that fact that as soon as he has ceased being President he goes right back into the body of the people and becomes like any other American citizen.” – Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt

Tearing Down the Past

Currently in the United States, historical statues and imagery across the country—from war memorials, to Civil War leaders, to paintings of George Washington—have been targeted for destruction by individuals who find them offensive. A new history is being shown to youth in the United States and other countries that criticizes our traditional cultures, curses our founding stories, and condemns our founders. It is a battle for memory, in a war of ideas. And we need only look at countries that have already gone through this process to see what the goals are.

In China, the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) similarly destroyed the cultural relics of the country, its values, and its traditions. This was done heavily during its Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s. In effect, the CCP destroyed 5,000 years of Chinese culture. The same thing happened under communist and socialist regimes in parts of Europe. After taking power, socialist tyrants typically are not satisfied with the mere surface destruction of traditional culture and belief, but also seek to destroy the past through criticizing and altering history.

Marx saw tradition as a tool of the bourgeoisie. Adherence to the past served as a mere distraction in proletariat’s quest for emancipation and supremacy. “In bourgeois society,” Marx wrote, “the past dominates the present; in Communist society, the present dominates the past.”

America has our sins, and we should not minimize nor hide them, but it is our achievements that are unrivaled. The West ended slavery. Christianity and the West gave birth to the idea of inalienable human rights. Rights that weren’t just incidental, but a founding principle of our form of government. Freedom of religion. Freedom of speech. Creating a country ruled by the people during a time when countries were ruled by monarchies and dictators.

America changed everything.

History reminds of us our human frailty as well as mankind’s greatest achievements. As we acknowledge our imperfections we must also acknowledge . . . it is much easier to tear down statues than to build a country.  

Protecting the Gift that is the U.S.A.

As Tracy and I sat in the amphitheater looking up at the granite faces, we took time to pray for our nation. We prayed for protection, healing, unity and a return to our first love. Our country was founded on a covenant with God and that is what brought about our freedom and prosperity. It’s what made us great and is the only answer that will keep up great.

As we approach another Fourth of July celebration, I hope you will take some time to recommit your focus on pursuing God’s purpose and presence in your life, as well as praying for His purposes to be continued and completed in our country.

God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.

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