It was the summer of 1973 and I had just finished working a week of basketball camp at the University of Vermont, where I’d completed my first year in college coaching as a graduate assistant. A full-time coaching job was harder to come by than I thought but the head coach at UVM did manage to get me an upgrade as a grad assistant at Washington State. While I was anxious to get to WSU, I desperately needed the $100 I got for working the camp. So I left Burlington for my parent’s house in New Jersey. It took me a couple days to get everything I owned into my car and head out for Pullman, WA. Actually, it took me about an hour but there were some friends I wanted to see before I left on the 3,000 mile trip, having no idea when or if I’d ever be returning.
The reasons for this trip down memory lane are the going away party I attended last Friday night for a coaching friend and the story a mother at our table told about her family taking a cross country trip. She felt their family needed to be aggressive and thought they could do it in six days. Mine lasted half that time. When she heard, she nearly flipped out and asked me if I ever stopped. I gave her my itinerary. It took me 16 hours to drive from New Jersey to Milton, Wisconsin, where I stopped at a rest area and slept for about three hours. Hey, I was excited to get to my (then-)Pac 8 gig. Awakening, and still running on adrenaline, I drove to Montana and actually got a hotel room. Then, it was onto Pullman.
The only stop I made along the way which, by the way was unplanned, was to see Mount Rushmore. Remember this sojourn was made well before the GPS was invented. Instead, I had maps – one of the United States, others of the individual states I’d be traveling through. As one map after another was thrown into the backseat (doing this motivated me to keep moving on), I opened South Dakota. I noticed the route would take me right past Mount Rushmore. Although I was foolish not to slow down and see America along the way, I was wise enough to understand that Mount Rushmore was must-see. It certainly didn’t disappoint. As my car weaved up the mountain where the observatory was located (for those who think you get to be on the mountain with the sculptures, I’m sorry to burst your bubble), all of a sudden a glimpse of Thomas Jefferson would appear through the trees, then a minute or so late, a shot of Washington. I wondered why there weren’t more accidents on that winding road.
Once you finally arrive, the view is breathtaking. After looking through the telescopes to get an up close view, I stayed long enough to watch the 14-minute video about the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum – why and how he accomplished it was absolutely mind-blowing. I mean, can you imagine one day, thinking, “I’d like to carve four presidents’ heads (actually, he intended to do full busts) into a mountain.” Where do you start with such a lofty goal? And then have the courage to do it (actually, he died, at 73, a year before the completion – his son, Lincoln, finished the project).
Last night there was a program on TBS about Borglum and the making of Mount Rushmore. There were some negative comments about the man and his project. One was that he had a big ego. Duh! Wouldn’t that would be completely understandable after hearing someone proclaim what he was attempting to do. Another criticism was the Native Americans were opposed to the idea, feeling it was a desecration of holy grounds. This is also understandable. It gave me pause that, while I view it as the most awesome site I’ve ever seen, to some people it was a trespass of their homeland. Lesson learned, nothing is 100% plus or minus, and it’s good to be able to at least understand things from others’ perspectives.
As far as Borglum himself, there were other unflattering characteristics. e.g. he complained quite a bit (which could be described as passion), and he had a quite a temper. Flamboyance, unpredictability and irascibility were also mentioned as undesirable traits. However, the show pointed out his skill as a sculptor was diminished because of this massive project (“normal” sized, spectacular sculptures he produced were so overshadowed by this massive project) and his persistence was unmatched. Still, he referred to Mount Rushmore as his “crowning achievement.” He had to plead for money from Washington and, often he would show up unannounced in DC to attempt to have a meeting with a Congressman or even the President himself. Recall much of the time was during the Depression so his plight was made that much more difficult. In today’s terms, the undertaking was a bargain coming in at under a million dollars – $989,992.32 to be exact (accounting for inflation that would be about $17 million today. Google some of the things that Congress spends $17M on).
Many of the workers would come and go due to the danger of the work and exposure to the elements but Borglum had a core who kept returning for each of the 14 years the project took. They were loyal to their boss and inspired by him. How could they not when Borglum, who was asked about attempting such a daunting task, simply said, “The faces are in the mountain. All I have to do is bring them out.”
In today’s world, there are seemingly an infinite number of motivational books and about the same number of speakers. There are self-esteem experts, people who will teach you how to reach your goals and your potential. The fact that Gutzon Borglum decided, at the age of 60, on his own, to undertake such a dream, despite all odds against him, and achieved it, reaffirms what that great philosopher, Deion Sanders, once said:
“If your dream ain’t bigger than you, there is something wrong with your dream.”