When my wife, Susan, and I moved to Dickinson, North Dakota in 2003, the first road trip we took was to Rapid City, South Dakota to see Mt. Rushmore. I remember the drive out of Rapid City as we passed Reptile Land and Bear Country, and entered the Black Hills National Forest. We passed through the small tourist town of Keystone which is located at the base of the mountain. We left the town of Keystone and began the climb up the side of the mountain. The road wound back and forth like a snake as we made our way towards Mt. Rushmore. The deer and mountain goats we saw along the side of the road reminded us we were leaving the hustle and bustle of the city and prepared us for what we were about to see.
I got my first glimpse of the monument before we reached the top. It was the head of George Washington. The morning sunlight had brightened his face and his gentle expression seemed to say, “Welcome. Come visit and stay awhile.” What an awe-inspiring, majestic, and breathtaking sight to see. It is incredible to think it was the vision of one man that designed and created such a masterful work of art. Mt. Rushmore will celebrate its 75th Anniversary on October 31, 2016. It was first opened to the public on that date in 1941. The monument portrays the faces of four of America’s greatest presidents, including (from left to right): George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.
It is estimated that over 2 million people visit the monument annually despite the apparent fact that many young people know nothing about it. According to a recent on the street trivia poll by Mark Dice, many young Americans do not even know what Country Mt. Rushmore is in. Even fewer people know about the true connection Freemasonry has to Mt. Rushmore and that it has nothing to do with the 2007 Walt Disney movie, National Treasure: Book of Secrets.
On Thursday, September 8, 2016, Masons from all over the United States came together at Mt. Rushmore, with their Masonic Brethren from the Grand Lodge of South Dakota, to commemorate this special occasion. The event was highlighted with inspirational speeches. The keynote speaker, Bro. Ronald Seale, the head of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, Southern Jurisdiction, had this to say about Masons of today being woven into American communities.
“…When you find [Masons], you find the fabric of America…”
In regards to Mt. Rushmore, Seale described the monument as a symbol.
“…the freedom to hope, and to dream, and the freedom to be, and the freedom to accomplish.”
He credits the many men who were Freemasons who, from start to finish, were dedicated to seeing this monument become a reality.
Bro. Seale was referring to men like: John and Lincoln Borglum, Charles Rushmore, Peter Norbeck, a U.S. Senator from South Dakota, Congressman William Williamson who was the project overseer of congressional funding, Carl Gunderson, the Governor of SD, Assistant Sculptors, Ivan Houser and Bill Tallman, and John Boland, the Mayor of Rapid City.
The Making of Mount Rushmore
The mountain was originally known by the local Lakota Sioux Indians as ‘The Six Grandfathers’. Additionally, it was also referred to as Cougar Mountain, Sugarloaf Mountain, and Slaughterhouse Mountain. Charles Rushmore, a very successful attorney from New York and a member of Kane Lodge #454, F&AM, frequently traveled to South Dakota for business and to the Black Hills of SD to hunt big game. On one of these trips, he asked his guide, a man by the name of Ted Brockett, what the name of the mountain was. At the time it was being referred to as Slaughterhouse Mountain. In a jest, Charles commented that it should be named after him since he visited it so often. The locals started referring to the Mountain as ‘Rushmore Hill’. Little did he know his quip would become reality and in June of 1930, the U.S. Board of Geographic Names officially changed the name to Mount Rushmore.
The monument is nestled in the Black Hills of South Dakota, located 25 miles outside of Rapid City. The construction of the monument began on October 4, 1927. The monument was constructed using dynamite, jackhammers, and hand chisels, and a total of 450,000 tons of rock were removed from the mountainside. The four presidents’ heads are 60 feet in height, and the first two to be completed were Washington and Jefferson.
The project was not without its obstacles. Jefferson had to be redone because the granite where he was to be carved was too unstable. He was initially to be positioned on the right side of Washington. Additionally, Washington was designed to be craved from his head to his waist. However, they ran into problems with a lack of funding and Borglum was forced to make a design change.
It is documented that 400 men worked on the monument during the 14 years it took to complete the project and no lives were lost. The dedication ceremony took place on October 31, 1941.
The Men Behind Mt Rushmore
Jonah LeRoy “Doane” Robinson
The “Father of Rushmore”, was referred to as “Doane” because Sadie, his older sister, had difficulty pronouncing his name. Doane had moved from Minnesota to South Dakota to pursue a career in farming. Rumor has it he was not a very good farmer. So instead he decided to trade in his overalls and farming equipment to become a lawyer.
It was because of Doane’s love for history that South Dakota promoted him to the position of State’s Historian. It was actually Doane who conceived the idea of carving American icons into the granite stones in the Black Hills of South Dakota. He believed it was a good way to increase the state’s tourism industry.
Doane’s original idea was to carve the images of western heroes into the giant granite spires, known as the Needles, located in Custer State Park. However, this suggestion was met with a lot of opposition, especially from local Indian tribes and conservationists. In addition, the stones were not structurally sound enough to withstand the carvings and, over time, would eventually collapse. Lastly, the project lacked funding and had no sculptor.
John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum
The man chosen to take on such a monumental task was John Borglum, an American artist and sculptor. Borglum was born in St. Charles, an Idaho Territory, on March 25, 1867. He was the son of Danish-American immigrants. His father studied to become a doctor and moved the family to Nebraska where he opened a medical practice. John Borglum began his studies in painting and sculpting at the Hopkins Institute of Art. He later continued his studies of art at the Académie Julian located in Paris, France. Borglum’s passion was sculpting larger than life figures. Among his most famous works is the head of Abraham Lincoln which he chiseled from a six-ton block of marble. This sculpture graced the White House while Theodore Roosevelt was President. He died on March 6, 1941, from an aneurysm and never saw the completion of the monument. His son, Lincoln, took over the project, but due to a lack of funding, construction was forced to end in late October 1941.
John Borglum – The Mason
On June 10, 1904, John Borglum was raised to a Master Mason in Howard Lodge #35, F&AM located in New York City. He would serve as the Worshipful Master of the Lodge from 1910-1911. Borglum was appointed in 1915, to serve as the Grand Representative of the Grand Lodge of Demark. He was also a member of the Scottish Rite in New York.
Lincoln Borglum was John’s oldest son and named after his father’s favorite President, Abraham Lincoln. He followed in his father’s footsteps because, like his father and other family members, Lincoln was a gifted sculptor. He was also a photographer, author, and an engineer. He took over as his father’s assistant when his father’s original assistant, Ivan Houser, left the project after seven years of dedication to creating the monument. Lincoln is best known for overseeing the completion the monument following his father’s death.
Lincoln Borglum – The Mason
Lincoln Borglum was a member of Battle River Lodge #9, AF&AM in Hermosa, South Dakota.
Meeting between Robinson and Borglum
Doane Robinson was able to convince John Borglum to meet with him in 1924, to share his vision with him. An agreement was reached following just two meetings. However, during their second meeting in 1925, Borglum insisted on moving the site to Mt. Rushmore because of the strong granite rock face, and because it faced southeast which meant it would receive maximum exposure to the sun. Borglum was quoted as saying, “America will march along that skyline.” Initially, Doane had wanted Lewis and Clark, Buffalo Bill, and Red Cloud to be Borglum’s subjects. But, the final decision came down to John Borglum who chose the four Presidents he felt had the most impact on American history for the first 130 years.
Meet the Four Presidents of Mount Rushmore
When President Coolidge granted Federal funding for the project in 1929, he insisted that in addition to George Washington, who was considered a Federalist, the other Presidents had to be two Republicans and one Democrat. Therefore, Borglum chose the other three accordingly. As it would turn out, two of the four were also Masons: Washington and Roosevelt. These four men, Masons or not, stood for the tenets and virtues of Freemasonry, as well as freedom, liberty, and the ability to dream for a better tomorrow.
George Washington – Founding
George Washington (1732-1799) was our first president. He is considered to be the “Father of our Country.” He was a Virginia plantation owner who became the commanding General of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Under his command, the colonies won their independence from Great Britain which resulted in the United States becoming a free nation.
Washington was initiated as an EA at Fredericksburg Lodge #4 in Fredericksburg, VA on November 4, 1752, at the age of 20. He was raised to a Master Mason on August 4, 1753. It is said that Washington served two terms as Master of his Lodge. In 1779, while George Washington and his armies were at their winter quarters in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, he was approached by the American Union (Military) Lodge and presented with a proposal to become the General Grand Master of Masons for the United States. If George Washington had accepted this offer, there would be a Grand Lodge of the United States today.
The Mt. Rushmore bust of George Washington was dedicated on July 4, 1930. George Washington was chosen as one of the busts for Mt. Rushmore to represent “Founding” as the founding father of our country.
Thomas Jefferson – Growth
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) served as our third president. He would serve for two terms. Originally, Jefferson was an attorney in Virginia. He was the author of the Declaration of Independence and is responsible for the purchase of the Louisiana Territory which doubled the size of the country. The Mt. Rushmore bust of Thomas Jefferson was dedicated in August 1936.
It has never been confirmed if Jefferson was ever a Mason. However, many of his closest friends were Masons including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and John Handcock, just to name a few. There are some Masonic Historians who believe Jefferson was, in fact, a Mason. They believe that it was possible Jefferson was raised to a Master Mason during one of his many visits to England.
Jefferson was chosen to represent “Growth” because of his part in the purchase of the Louisiana Territory.
Abraham Lincoln – Preservation
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) served as our 16th president. He was President during America’s darkest days in history, the Civil War. A time when brothers were fighting brothers and the United States was deeply divided. Lincoln was determined to abolish slavery and preserve the union. He was assassinated on April 14, 1865, at Ford Theater.
Lincoln had petitioned the Springfield Masonic Lodge in Illinois but requested his petition be held until after he served as President. The Mt. Rushmore bust of Abraham Lincoln was dedicated in September of 1937.
Lincoln was chosen to represent “Preservation” because of his efforts to preserve the union during the Civil War.
Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt – Development
Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) was the 26th President of the United States. His leadership inspired great economic growth in the United States. He was instrumental in negotiating the contract for the building of the Panama Canal. Roosevelt is known as the “Father of our National Park System.” The Mt. Rushmore bust of Theodore Roosevelt was dedicated in July of 1939.
Roosevelt was initiated in Matinecock Lodge #806 in Oyster Bay, New York on January 2, 1902. During his Presidency, he attended the Sesqui-Centennial Celebration of Brother George Washington’s initiation into Freemasonry in 1902, which was held at the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA.
Roosevelt was chosen to represent “Development” because of the tremendous economic growth during his presidency.
The celebration of the 75 th Anniversary of Mt. Rushmore is a reminder of the great undertakings of men. If one man can dream it, another man can make it happen. Freemasonry, according to Bro. Ronald Seale, is, in fact, woven into the fabric of America. Men who were, and are, Masons have helped to build this great country. In the many visits my wife and I took to visit Mt. Rushmore, I was only aware of Presidents George Washington and Theodore Roosevelt as being Masons. However, it was my love of American history and the need to seek more light in Freemasonry, that I truly learned how many brothers of the Craft were instrumental in planning, financing, and creating this majestic monument. The four Presidents of Rushmore represent the first 130 years of our history. They all shared the same hope and dream to Make America Great. It was their beliefs, visions, and sacrifices for freedom, preservation, growth, and development, which made America the great nation it is today. Bro. John Borglum, who was given a gift by the Supreme Being, saw these same dreams as the men he enshrined on that mountain. I believe he created Mt. Rushmore to remind all who visit it that freedom comes at a price, and there are times you have to fight for what is right and just. I would advise every Mason to put Mt. Rushmore on his bucket list of Masonic sites to visit. You will not be disappointed. Mt. Rushmore will make you proud to be an American and a Mason.
So Mote It Be…
WM Dr. Robert W. Baer, DDGM
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