KEYSTONE, S.D. — When Presidents Day rolls around, the holiday might conjure up images of big sales for mattresses at big box stores, but the day to honor America's 45 presidents has a monumental, rock-solid symbol of those presidents' legacies in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
The Mount Rushmore National Memorial was started nearly 100 years ago thanks to a man that got his start in a small corner of the Idaho territory.
Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum was born in St. Charles, Idaho in 1867 to Danish immigrants and polygamist Mormons. A winter storm in 1867 forced his parents to stop their journey west at a small cabin near Bear Lake.
Borglum became an artist later in life and traveled through Europe before coming back to the United States in the 1900s. In 1911, he carved President Abraham Lincoln's face into a six-ton slab of marble. That prelude to Mount Rushmore was later moved and placed in Washington D.C.'s capitol rotunda.
Later in 1927, a 60-year-old Borglum started sculpting the heads of Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and George Washington into the granite face of the Black Hills in South Dakota.
For why Borglum chose those presidents, the story goes that he felt those presidents reflected some of the biggest moments in America's history. Washington represented the nation's founding, Jefferson was meant as the symbol of the Louisiana Purchase, Lincoln for the abolishment of slavery, and Roosevelt represented the clearing of the Panama Canal.
In all, nearly 500,000 tons of rock were removed, mostly with dynamite.
Borglum was never able to see the competition of his work, as he died at the age of 74 in 1941, about six months before it was finished.
His son, appropriately named Lincoln, finished the final details on the national memorial.
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