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Borglum and Coolidge: A ‘Rocky’ Relationship

    Rushmore Dedication

    ‘We have come here to dedicate a cornerstone laid by the hand of the Almighty. …The union of these four presidents carved on the face of the everlasting Black Hills of South Dakota … will be distinctly American in its conception, in its magnitude, in its meaning. … No one can look upon it without realizing it is a picture of hope fulfilled.’

    Sculptor Gutzon Borglum and President Calvin Coolidge had a rocky relationship (so to speak).

    Even before Borglum had begun the carving of Mount Rushmore, he had annoyed the 30th president. Back in 1924, when Borglum was promoting his plan to carve Stone Mountain, Ga., into a Confederate memorial, he persuaded Coolidge to support a plan to mint special 50-cent coins to help raise money for the project. The coins were minted, but Borglum abandoned the project.

    By 1927, their paths crossed once again, this time in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Coolidge spent that summer at Custer State Park’s State Game Lodge, which served as the Western White House. Meanwhile, Borglum had begun work on the Mount Rushmore carving. He wanted the president to attend a special dedication ceremony — even though a dedication had been done earlier — so he and Spearfish pilot Clyde Ice flew low over the Game Lodge and dropped a wreath inviting the president to the event.

    Coolidge agreed, and he gave a moving speech at the dedication. More importantly, he supported federal funding for the carving.


    Borglum’s original plan was to have an entablature next to the four faces. On it, he would carve the history of the United States. He asked Coolidge to write a 500-word essay for the entablature. Coolidge did, but Borglum’s heavy-handed editing annoyed him even more. Eventally, the entablature idea was discarded altogether.

    Years later, when Coolidge was Back East and no longer president, he asked someone how far he was from the Black Hills. “Oh, I don’t know, Mr. President,” was the reply. “I’d guess maybe fifteen hundred miles.”

    “Well, y’know … that’s about as close t’Mr. Borglum as I care to be.”