6: The Faces on the Mountain

6: The Faces on the Mountain

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America

The Faces on the Mountain

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.

~John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum

We were on a road trip, taking our time and enjoying the incredible scenery in this country. It was kind of a National Parks road trip, staying a few days in each place. We had already been to the Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce, and after making our way north we were now in South Dakota to check out the Badlands, the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore.

We were lucky to have a room in the historic Custer State Game Lodge, an old hotel in Custer Park that had served as the Summer White House for President Coolidge in 1927 and where President Eisenhower had stayed in 1953 when he was on a speaking trip. My husband and I had reserved the Eisenhower room, the very room the President had stayed in years ago!

We spent two days driving around the beautiful and diverse countryside and checking out the sites. We saw all kinds of wildlife too. Imagine driving down a small road in the park that is only wide enough for two cars to pass… carefully, and coming upon a herd of bison! That’s exactly what happened to us. And what does everyone tell you to do when that happens? Pull over! Bison rule the road! They are huge. And they don’t care if you have the right of way! They’re bigger than you are. They just watch you for a while and then, when they decide it’s time they amble on down the road. When they are a safe distance away, then, and only then, can you drive away… slowly.

The next day we had plans to visit Mount Rushmore. It was about an hour’s drive from our hotel — more time for us to take in the scenery. It was also July 4th. When we told the concierge at the hotel that we had plans to visit Mount Rushmore the next morning she advised us to get there as early as we could. They were expecting huge crowds for the holiday and, although it had been almost two years since the terrible tragedy of 9/11, the security, while always tight, would be even more restrictive.

My husband and I are not early morning people but on that clear and sunny Friday morning we were up at the crack of dawn. After breakfast in the hotel dining room we started out for Mount Rushmore. We knew when we were getting close because, even early in the morning, there were lots of cars on the road. The line of cars in front of us, and in back of us, grew heavier and longer as we approached the entrance to the park. Like a parade, the cars slowly snaked up the hill toward the parking structure.

But first you had to pass through the entrance gates. There were soldiers with rifles and bomb-sniffing dogs stationed at each gate. Each car was stopped. Each person had to produce a picture ID. While one soldier checked IDs and looked into and poked around the car, another soldier, along with a bomb-sniffing dog, walked slowly around the car and used mirrors on long poles to check underneath. It was a slow process but they were not taking any chances. Thank goodness for that.

After we were cleared through security, we drove into the parking structure, found a place to park and walked toward the entrance. You walk up the stairs and down the Avenue of the Flags. There are fifty-six flags flying, twenty-eight on either side of the path: fifty state flags, one district flag, three territory flags and two commonwealth flags, all representing the United States of America. It is a very colorful and impressive sight.

In the background you can see the heads of the four Presidents carved into the granite face of the mountain. Of course we had seen pictures of the carvings in books so we knew what to expect, but everyone who had seen it told us that seeing it in person would be an unforgettable experience. And it was. You can’t get the magnitude of the sculptures from a picture. It was beyond impressive and majestic.

We toured the Visitor’s Center, looked at the exhibits and watched the movie on the history of the carving of the mountain. And then it was time to really view the sculptures. We walked out into the crowd standing on the Grand View Terrace. Everyone was looking up in awe, standing still and quiet. Even the children who were there seemed to sense that this was something special and were silent.

As we looked at our fellow visitors, we noticed something unusual. Almost without exception, these people were wearing red, white, and blue. Some people wore shirts with the American flag and the words “Proud to Be an American” printed on them. It was such a spontaneous outpouring of patriotism.

And then it started. Quietly. Kind of like humming. At first I wasn’t sure I was really hearing it. Someone started singing “God Bless America.” Then more and more people joined in until practically everyone standing and viewing this American monument was singing. It sounded amazing. Lots of people had tears in their eyes. Lots of people had smiles on their faces.

We are strong. We are proud. We are Americans.

~Barbara LoMonaco

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