Today, Mount Rushmore is considered “America’s Shrine to Democracy”, but many Americans don’t know that when Mount Rushmore was first conceived, the carving was designed to look completely different than it does today.
The massive carving was the original brainchild of Doane Robinson, a state historian who conceived the idea in 1923 to try and bring more visitors and tourists to the Black Hills. Robinson’s original idea called for a carving of some of the great heroes of the Wild West that would stand as a legacy to the time period.
Robinson wanted to see George Armstrong Custer, Buffalo Bill Cody, Lewis & Clark and legendary Sioux Warriors, carved on a mountain monument.
Robinson’s original plans also called for the carvings to be done in the famous Needles section of the Badlands and Black Hills area. The plan was to turn some of the Needles into tall, granite figures. After Gutzon Borglum was contacted to carve the monument, he came and inspected the Needles, but deemed them too thin and weathered to be able to support a sculpture structure on a large scale.
Once the Needles were ruled out as a possible location for the sculpture, Borglum and his crew searched to find a new location for the carving. Once Borglum set his eyes on Mount Rushmore, he pointed to it and said, “America will march along that skyline.”
Mount Rushmore was the perfect location for the sculpture because it faced the southeast, which meant it would receive light throughout most of the day. Having sunlight during the day would also be helpful for the carving process, as well as viewing the sculpture once it was complete. The mountain also had very resistant granite that would hold up to the carving process.
Many people don’t know that there were plans to add a fifth figure to Mount Rushmore. In 1937, a bill was introduced to Congress to add the head of civil-rights leader Susan B. Anthony. Eventually, further legislation was passed that stated federal funds could be used only to finish the heads that had already been started at that time.
Another hidden element of Mount Rushmore that is not widely known is the existence of the Hall of Records as part of the memorial. Gutzon Borglum’s original design called for a Grand Hall that would house some of America’s most crucial artifacts, as well as remind us where America’s future lies. Unfortunately, funds ran out before the Hall could be completed.
In 1998, the National Park System partnered with the Borglum family to put the final touches on the Hall of Records that was never finished. The room was not finished or even fully carved, but a titanium vault, which held a teakwood box, was installed in the granite floor of the entrance way. The box held sixteen porcelain enamel panels, with different historical writings or biographies written on them.