The Secret Chamber Hidden In Historical Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore is one of America’s greatest political monuments. The 60-foot heads of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln look over America’s heartland, attracting millions of tourists each year. But what you don’t know, is that the designer and sculptor behind the massive project added a secret chamber behind Abraham Lincoln, like something right out of a blockbuster movie. The reason why he built it may just shock you, as well as what lays within the chamber today. All is not what it seems on Mount Rushmore, so read on to find out what’s really inside one of the most famous American landmarks.
1. A Grand Monument
No other monument is more quintessentially American than the stone faces carved into Mount Rushmore. From miles away you can see the heads of four great US presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.
The giant granite faces were carved into the mountainside in the Black Hills near the city of Keystone, South Dakota. But what you may not know is that the memorial is not all that it appears to be. It contains a secret…
2. The Plan
Today, Mount Rushmore is the saving grace for tourism in South Dakota but it is also a landmark, preserving the heads of four of America’s greatest presidents of all time. But it might surprise you to hear that the four presidents weren’t part of the original plan.
The original idea had been to sculpt the faces of famous people in the mountains to attract tourists. Another idea was to sculpt famous scenes from American history. But eventually, they came to the decision to carve the presidents.
3. The Black Hills
The person who is credited with the idea of carving the faces into a mountain to promote tourism is a historian named Doane Robinson, who enlisted the help of sculptor Gutzon Borglum to create the monument. Initially, it was going to be in another location.
The plan had been to create the iconic monument at a location known as the Needles, a region of granite pillars, towers and spires near Custer, South Dakota in Custer State Park. But the pillars turned out to be too thin and would have crumbled. But the location they chose in the Black Hills would prove to be highly controversial.
4. Construction Begins
The United States Congress approved the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Commission in March of 1925, and by October of 1927, construction was underway. Four hundred workers, along with Gutzon Borglum, began sculpting the monument into Mount Rushmore.
For sculptor Borglum, this was the piece that would land him in the history books. His name would be forever be attached to the mountain which would hopefully last for a very long time. For a sculptor, this was Borglum’s Sphinx. But the sculptor had more in store for the monument than just carving faces…
5. The Sculptor, Gutzon Borglum
The master-sculptor behind the massive project, Gutzon Borglum, wanted a far more extravagant design than just the four faces currently on Mount Rushmore. He had a big plan for the space beyond just the facade. In addition to the presidents, he also wanted to carve a map of the Louisiana Purchase into the mountain face.
Within the outlay of the map, Borglum then wanted to inscribe the most significant events in American history. But the commission refused. They did, however, allow one important aspect: a chamber behind the carving of Lincoln’s head. The chamber would soon become shrouded in conspiracies and mystery.
6. The Controversy
Long before ground was broken on the Mount Rushmore monument, a controversy had been stirred due to the project’s location. The Black Hills are not only a beautiful natural landscape; they are also regarded as sacred by numerous Native American Tribes.
The Lakotas, Cheyennes, Arapahos, Kiowas and Kiowa-Apaches all believe the Black Hills to be sacred land. The hills are used to this day to perform sacred rituals and a court case is still pending to determine the status and compensation to the Native American tribes.
7. The Project Goes On
Mount Rushmore had many names prior to Rushmore. The local Native American’s referred to Mount Rushmore as “The Six Grandfathers.” They believe that cutting into any part of it is a desecration of the place.
Despite the protests from Native Americans, the Mount Rushmore project went on. The US government had already seized the land as part of a National Park, but there would be more hiccups in the monument’s construction to come.
8. Not As Planned
Originally the carvings of the presidents were supposed to be from their waists up, but due to a lack of funding, they were only able to carve the presidents’ heads. Borglum was working furiously to create his chamber and had already blasted out large portions before the news came.
Due to the funding issues, the government requested (not that he had a choice) to finish the faces first before any additional funds were used to create his chamber he was so adamant about. But just what exactly was he planning on putting inside his “Chamber of Secrets?”
9. The Hall of Records
Apart from the monument of faces carved into Mount Rushmore, Borglum was also authorized to create a Hall of Records behind Abraham Lincoln’s hairline on the mountain. But just what was he planning on filling it with?
Borglum was planning on filling the chamber with some of America’s most treasured documents, to leave behind a reminder of our civilization for thousands of years to come, like a time capsule, to be opened thousands of years in the future.
10. Why They Were Chosen
Lots of thought went into which presidents would be chosen to be forever engraved into Mount Rushmore. And each president has a specific reason. George Washington was the first president and responsible for molding the United States into what it is today. Thomas Jefferson was chosen for his dedication to the Declaration of Independence.
Abraham Lincoln was chosen for his pursuit of equal justice for all Americans and ending slavery. Theodore Roosevelt was chosen for the advancements he made in the American economy and for creating the Panama Canal.
11. More Issues In The Project
Construction on the faces had just begun, but the team was already running into issues. The granite on the left side of the mountain proved to be far too fragile to support a carving. Thomas Jefferson was originally planned to be located to the right-hand side of George Washington.
Due to the issue with the granite, the carving of Thomas Jefferson had to be moved. He was moved to the left-hand side of George Washington. So, if you have ever looked at the monument and thought that Jefferson looked a bit squished in, it’s because he was. The team was lucky to get him to fit in the space at all.
12. Coming to a Close
The carving of Mount Rushmore went fairly smoothly and miraculously none of the 400 workers died during its construction, which was quite the feat, considering how high so many people were dangling in the air trying to carve the presidential faces.
However, even though the faces were eventually completed, one thing still remained unfinished: Borglum’s secret Hall of Records. He was anxious to finish the pet-project that he conceived. But what would happen next, shocked everyone.
13. Borglum’s Death
Sculpture Gutzon Borglum passed away in March of 1941, just a few month before the completion of Mount Rushmore. His son, Lincoln Borglum, took over. Lincoln Borglum had been working on the Mount Rushmore project as an unpaid worker since he was 21-years-old.
Lincoln Borglum had to give up on his father’s plan to include the presidents’ torsos in Mount Rushmore, but he did carry out his father’s dream of creating a Hall of Records behind the mountain.
14. How They Did It
It took Borglum and his 400 workers from October 4, 1927 to October 31, 1941 to complete the massive project. When completed, the carvings reached 60 feet high. All four of the presidents together represented the first 130 years of American history.
The carving itself was back-breaking. Tons of dynamite had to be used to remove the granite, then the faces had to be carved by hand. They used a technique known as “honeycombing,” in which small holes are drilled then removed by hand to create the wanted look of the piece.
15. More Experts
Additional experts had to be brought in to work on the expressions of each of the four presidents. Carving emotion and personality into stone is no easy feat and the last thing anyone wanted was expressionless or cross-eyed presidents.
A special Italian artisan by the name of Luigi del Bianco was brought in for the task. The national park service also came in to help with the project. They extended the tram system in the park to reach the top of the mountain to make it easier for workers to get up and down easily.
16. Unfinished Business
While Lincoln Borglum continued on in his father’s wake, he was not able to finish the secret chamber the way his father would have wanted him to. It was left incomplete, and when the faces were all complete, so was the entire project.
The entire Mount Rushmore project amazingly cost a mere $989,992.32 (about $18.5 million today), a surprisingly low amount considering the magnitude of the huge monument. But the project wasn’t quite over yet. Congress wanted to see the Hall of Records completed, but before that, they were in talks about adding another face to the mountain.
17. Another Face
By 1937, some of the faces had already been completed on Mount Rushmore. While that was going on, Congress was in talks about adding one more iconic face to the political monument. That face was none other than women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony.
Unfortunately, Anthony was never added to Mount Rushmore. As the memorial project was being funded by the government, a new bill had to be introduced into Congress to get the additional federal funds approved.
18. The New Bill
The new bill was introduced to Congress and most likely would have passed, had it not been for an appropriations bill. Fearing that the already-large project would grow too expensive, an appropriations bill was added, stating that the funds must go toward finishing the heads that had already been started.
As the years passed and the four heads were finished, adding Susan b. Anthony was never brought up again in Congress. Anthony would have made a fine addition to the monument since she was instrumental in women’s suffrage, finally allowing for women to vote. Anthony wasn’t added to Mount Rushmore, but would the secret room behind Lincoln ever be completed? And what would it contain?
19. The Hall of Records
Borglum’s vision for the Hall of Records was left incomplete after his passing. Instead of a huge chamber, it remained a long maze-like hallway chiseled into the mountain. He had envisioned building an 800-foot stairway that led to a great hall with a large bronze eagle hanging above the entrance to the chamber.
The eagle was to have a wing-span of 38 feet and the hall was to contain busts of famous Americans and American presidents. Borglum wanted all aspects of American culture to be memorialized in the hall, including science, art and industry.
While the great hall that Borglum envisioned never came to fruition, there was a partial revival of his dream. Over 50 years after his death, monument officials saw to it that the hall carved into the stone behind President Abraham Lincoln was put to use.
A large granite memorial slab was placed in the hall with a quote from the sculptor and next to it, is a wooden box. The box contains porcelain panels engraved with important American documents. Engravings of the US Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, a biography of the sculptor, and a list of each US president with descriptions of their achievements lie in the box.
Each of the precious documents are engraved on porcelain enamel panels to ensure that they will last for a very long time. All of the items in the hall have been sealed behind a 1,200-pound granite slab, making sure no one gets in.
The Hall of Records is, unfortunately, closed to the public. Even if someone was able to get past the immense security around the mountain, no one would be able to move the enormous granite slab that seals the hall. So, why is all that necessary?
22. The Mystery
The fact that no one is allowed in the hall and that it is so heavily guarded has led to much speculation that there must be something very important and secretive locked within the mountain — perhaps something the creator had never intended to be placed inside.
The secrecy and security have created many conspiracy theories. Some people have even gone as far as to claim that proof of alien existence is sealed within the hall. Others claim that other government secrets are sealed in the chamber. Years later, a discovery was found in the hall…
23. The Discovery
While we may never know what truly lies in the Hall of Records, apart from what the government has told us, a discovery was made. In one part of the hall, someone found items that were never meant to be stored in the hall to begin with
Those items were fireworks. Apparently, part of the hall has been used to store fireworks that are used yearly in the 4th of July fireworks show held at Mount Rushmore. The designer of Mount Rushmore certainly never meant for the Hall of Records to be used as a storage closet!
24. Tourism and Upkeep
Today, millions of people a year travel to Mount Rushmore to see the beautifully-sculpted presidents carved into the mountain, making it South Dakota’s most popular tourist attraction. Mount Rushmore also significantly fuels the economy of South Dakota.
Lots of effort goes into keeping the monument in tip-top shape and preserving it for generations to come. Mountain climbers are used to inspect the heads regularly, on the lookout for any cracks or deterioration. But Mount Rushmore isn’t the only mountain monument in South Dakota to check out.
25. A Different Kind of Monument
Another important monument can be found in South Dakota, except this one honors the Native Americans. A Lakota tribe elder named Henry Standing Bear commissioned the project and asked a student of Borglum’s, Korczak Ziolkowski, to carry it out.
After receiving the approval of the Lakota tribe, he embarked on designing and sculpting the mountain monument Crazy Horse in 1948. Ziolkowski was quoted as saying that Henry Standing Bear wrote to him that “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes, too.” All requests for federal funding of the project have been rejected and the project has been “in progress” for decades now.
26. Still Controversial
Crazy Horse was the leader of one of the Lakota tribes and fought in many significant battles during the American Indian Wars against the invading white American settlers. The monument, to date, is still incomplete but is set to become the biggest sculpture in the world once completed.
However, there is still controversy surrounding the monument. Some Native American’s are opposed to the Crazy Horse monument because it goes against Crazy Horse’s own beliefs. They believe that the monument essentially pollutes the nature and landscape of their homeland.
27. Where Rushmore Got Its Name
Native Americans had many names for Mount Rushmore prior to settlers moving to what is today known as South Dakota. But it wasn’t until around 1884 that a lawyer from New York, by the name of Charles E. Rushmore, named the mountain.
Charles Rushmore arrived in South Dakota to check legal titles on a number of properties located around the Black Hills. He reportedly asked a local, Bill Challis, what the mountain was called and was told that it had no name, so he named it after himself.
28. Disputed Territory
Years prior to the sculpting of the Mount Rushmore Memorial, in 1868, the Black Hills were promised to the Sioux Nation by the US government in a treaty. But less than 10 years later, gold was found in the hills.
The land was retaken by the US government and the natives were forced to relocate. The move was eventually declared unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court and compensation in the amount of $105 million was offered to the Sioux. They, however, declined the funds, stating that they wanted their land back instead.
29. Borglum’s Dark Past
The master sculptor Borglum may be famous for the creation of Mount Rushmore, but he himself had a dark past. And that dark past included a memorial to America’s violent past. At one point during his life, or perhaps for all of his life, he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
Borglum was commissioned by the KKK to sculpt a monument to the Confederate States of America at the location of the founding of the second Ku Klux Klan in 1915. The massive monument is still standing today.
30. The Confederate Memorial
The Confederate monument is located in Stone Mountain Park, just outside of Stone Mountain, Georgia. Carved into the huge stone mountain are the depictions of confederate leaders Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. The construction of the monument started in June of 1923.
The Stone Mountain carving was completed in 1924 and unveiled on Lee’s birthday. Nowadays, there is much controversy surrounding the Confederate memorial and many people have proposed its removal or replacement. However, Georgia law prohibits any change to the mountain carving, meaning a special law would have to pass through Georgia legislature in order to remove or replace it.
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