I had been told all kinds of things about Mount Rushmore before I had the chance to visit. I had been told that it was in the middle of nowhere and that there just wasn’t much around or much to do. Most of the people who had gone before me, people who I trusted, told me that they were slightly disappointed in what they had seen.
Sometimes it’s better to go into a situation with low expectations, it usually means that there’s no place else to go but up. If you don’t have high expectations, chances of those expectations being dashed are fairly low.
So, when my family and I went to Mount Rushmore last month, I figured that we would be there for a few hours and then we would leave. I believed everything that had been told to me, that there would just not be any reason to hang out for any length of time. But, boy, was I wrong….or maybe the people who had gone before me were wrong.
As we drove up the mountain road that leads to the parking area at Mount Rushmore, the mountain face was visible from the car. My first thought was that it just didn’t seem to be as big as I thought that it would be, that I anticipated, that I thought it should be. Somehow or another, the pictures had made it look……smaller, somehow.
Once we found a parking place and made our way closer to the mountain face, it was captivating to me. I couldn’t help but just stand there and stare. No, it wasn’t as big as I had thought that it would be, but somehow, it drew me in, it kept me staring. I could see that there was something much more to this mountain than just some faces on stone.
But, there’s always something lying beneath the surface. Just as Gutzon Borglum had to test the rocks and explore beneath the surface to find out just how his sculpture could be carved into that mountain in the Black Hills, so we had to look deeper, beyond just what we saw on the surface.
As we made our way into the museum there at Mount Rushmore, I discovered the context that I needed. Looking at pictures, reading through descriptions, coming to an understanding of this mountain, it was so much more than just four faces carved into granite, it was a picture of hope, a picture of adventure, a picture of courage, a picture of freedom, and so much more than that. Each face carved into that stone was representative of something so much more and the sum of the parts were greater than the individual parts, which is saying quite a lot considering just how important and valuable each of those parts was.
As I walked through the exhibits in the museum, I encountered this paragraph on the wall:
“The Meaning of Mount Rushmore: The four American Presidents carved into the granite of Mount Rushmore were chosen by the sculptor to commemorate the founding, growth, preservation, and development of the United States. They symbolize the principles of liberty and freedom on which the nation was founded. George Washing signifies the struggle for independence and the birth of the Republic; Thomas Jefferson the territorial expansion of the country; Abraham Lincoln the permanent union of the States, and equality for all citizens, and Theodore Roosevelt, the 20th century role of the United States in world affairs and the rights of the common man.”
And then I knew why the urge to stare was so strong, why I was drawn to those faces and that mountain. There was a sense of patriotism there, a sense of liberty and freedom that somehow drew the casual observer in, inviting them to see beyond the stone to what it represented. These faces seemed to mean so much more, especially during this time in our country’s history.
In the midst of a political landscape where it seems buffoons and liars have somehow made their way up to the top, these faces carved in stone represent character and integrity that seems lost today. Carved there in stone to remind us just where we have come from and what we have gained, these figures stand in stark contrast to the characters that we have seen paraded before us on the political stage. Their word was their bond, they believed in something, they had principles, they had integrity, they were not so easily bought and one even gave his life, albeit unwillingly, for fighting a fight that he knew had to be won.
These faces, and more importantly the men behind them, are right where they need to be, standing as a symbol to the rest of us that there is hope, there is liberty, there is integrity. But maybe, just maybe, like this rock, it needs to be blasted and chiseled and carved, maybe it needs to be sought out, digging much deeper than we’ve dug before, prospecting beneath the surface. In the words of the sculptor himself, “Hence, let us place there, carved high, as close to heaven as we can, the words of our leaders, their faces to show posterity what manner of men they were. Then breathe a prayer that these records will endure until the wind and the rain along shall wear them away.”
I was deeply impacted by what I saw and experienced at Mount Rushmore. As I stood there looking at these stone faces, I tried to think about the last president who was worthy of having his face carved into stone, and I found myself at a loss.