Presidents’ Day got us thinking about our time at Mount Rushmore National Memorial. We’ll get to the giant stone heads lurking there in the Black Hills of South Dakota in a minute. But first, some fast facts that make Presidents’ Day make sense. Sort of.
It all started with the Father of our Country, George Washington. Eager to commemorate the birthday of the first President of the United States, a federal holiday was created in 1885. It was called Washington’s Birthday and it took place on the President’s actual birthday which is February 22. In 1971, as part of a nationwide drive to create more long weekend holidays in order to boost travel and commerce, Presidents’ Day was proposed.
Initially March 4 (the first inauguration date) was suggested as the date for Presidents’ Day, but the long-weekenders won out and Presidents’ Day was set as the third Monday in February. It now commonly commemorates both Washington’s birthday and President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, which is February 12 and was never a federal holiday.
Ironically, the third Monday in February always falls between February 15 and 21 which means Presidents’ Day will never, ever fall on the actual birth date of either President Washington or President Lincoln.
An even more powerful ode to US Presidents is the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota where the faces of four Presidents were sculpted into stone by Danish-American Gutzon Gorglum. Odd fact: Gorglum’s son (who completed the project after his father’s death) was named Lincoln.
The project was started in 1927 as a way to boost local tourism (build it and they will come). Mount Rushmore was named a National Memorial and made part of the National Park Service in 1933–a year before the first 60 foot (18 meter) high Presidential Giant Head was finished. President George Washington was first and his image was completed and dedicated on July 4, 1934.
Thomas Jefferson’s face was dedicated in 1936 and the face of Abraham Lincoln was dedicated in 1937. For a brief moment, Susan B. Anthony was going to be the fourth face depicted on Mount Rushmore but Teddy Roosevelt won out. The whole project was finished by 1941 at a total cost of US$989,992.32. More than 400 workers chipped and blasted away at the project. Incredibly, no one died.
Before being named Mount Rushmore (after Charles E. Rushmore a lawyer and explorer who led an expedition to the area in 1885), the mountain was known to the area’s Native Americans who believed it was sacred. Many still do and the nearby massive stone carving at the Crazy Horse Memorial is considered, by some, to be a kind of protest or counterpoint to Mount Rushmore.
The annual Fourth of July fireworks display over Mount Rushmore is epic and we were lucky enough to be there for it as part of our Trans-Americas Journey. Be aware that the event is sometimes cancelled due to drought, so check before you book a July 4 visit.
Read more about travel to US National Parks & Monuments