Coolidge and Mt. Rushmore


One of the less successful endeavors of Coolidge’s post-presidential years was a unique yet ill-fated writing project that related to the Mt. Rushmore site. Coolidge had met Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor and driving force behind the project, while vacationing in South Dakota in the summer of 1927. Borglum apparently campaigned hard to get Coolidge to dedicate the site. When the dedication day came, August 10, 1927, Coolidge made a speech that read in part:

“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.

“Its location will be significant. Here in the heart of the continent, on the side of a mountain which probably no white man had ever beheld in the days of Washington, in territory acquired by the action of Jefferson, which remained an unbroken wilderness beyond the days of Lincoln, which was especially loved by Roosevelt.”

He then presented Borglum with six steel drill bits with which the artist would start carving the hill. Borglum, in response, invited Coolidge to write the explanatory inscription Borglum envisioned for an “entablature” (or tablet) to accompany the portraits on Rushmore.

Coolidge’s goodwill was helpful in the effort to raise funds for the monument; he signed the first large appropriation bill for the project just days before the end of his presidency. As an ex-president, he remained on decent terms with Borglum until the affair of the Entablature turned into a fiasco. After the unwanted publicity, Coolidge didn’t want anything to do with the artist again.

Read on after the cut to find out what happened (ain’t I a tease?)

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