John Taliaferro
John Taliaferro
Great White Fathers: The Story of the Obsessive Quest to Create Mount Rushmore
ISBN: 1891620983
Great White Fathers
—from the publisher's website

Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of Mount Rushmore National Memorial, hoped that ten thousand years from now, when archaeologists came upon the four sixty-foot presidential heads carved in the Black Hills of South Dakota, they would have a clear and graphic understanding of American civilization.

Borglum, the child of Mormon polygamists, had an almost Ahab-like obsession with Colossalism--a scale that matched his ego and the era. He learned how to be a celebrity from Auguste Rodin; how to be a political bully from Teddy Roosevelt. He ran with the Ku Klux Klan and mingled with the rich and famous from Wall Street to Washington. Mount Rushmore was to be his crowning achievement, the newest wonder of the world, the greatest piece of public art since Phidias carved the Parthenon.

But like so many episodes in the saga of the American West, what began as a personal dream had to be bailed out by the federal government, a compromise that nearly drove Borglum mad. Nor in the end could he control how his masterpiece would be received. Nor its devastating impact on the Lakota Sioux and the remote Black Hills of South Dakota.

is at once the biography of a man and the biography of a place, told through travelogue, interviews, and investigation of the unusual records that one odd American visionary left behind. It proves that the best American stories are not simple; they are complex and contradictory, at times humorous, at other times tragic.

Great White Fathers
Program Air Date: December 15, 2002

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: John Taliaferro, I have to start first about your book on "Great White Fathers" to ask you about that name because people have seen John -- looks like "Talli-a-ferro," and it's not. Where'd you get the name "Tolliver"?
JOHN TALIAFERRO, AUTHOR, "GREAT WHITE FATHERS" Italian originally, I'm sure. My ancestors came here several hundred years ago, and the pronunciation got stepped on pretty hard. My father will say that it means Eisenhower in Italian, which is true. Pronounced "Tolliver."
LAMB: "Great White Fathers" -- when you look at the cover of the book, who is that, first of all?
LAMB: And you can't miss it for being Mount Rushmore. What's this book about?
TALIAFERRO: This book is, obviously, about Mount Rushmore. I was one of those people who didn't go to Mount Rushmore in the back of a station wagon when I was a child. I went more recently, in the mid-'90s. And I was struck in a couple of different ways. One is Mount Rushmore as a work of art, but the other was Mount Rushmore as an artifact of the idea that if archaeologists came upon this colossal carving in the Black Hills, in the center of our nation, 10,000 years from now and treated it the way we now treat the pyramids, or something like that, what does it say about the civilization that created it? Who are these men on the mountain? How did they get here? Who carved it? What are the values behind this?

And so that was my approach, so that took -- when I started digging, as an archaeologist, if you will, I had to know what came before. I wanted to look at the community around it, the -- Mount Rushmore is a tourist attraction, along with being America's shrine of democracy. It draws two-and-a-half million people a year. There is an immense community around them of water slides and paintball courses and reptile gardens that have grown up around Mount Rushmore. I wanted to understand the culture.
LAMB: Where is it?
TALIAFERRO: It is in the Black Hills of South Dakota, a long way from a lot of places. And in fact, that's why it is there. In the 1920s, when the idea came to a man named Doane Robinson, South Dakota was in the midst of the Great Depression, a depression that carried over into the depression of the '30s, even. And he thought, Well, how can we get Americans to come to our region of the world? He was -- it was conceived as the next leg under the economic table in South Dakota, and it worked.
LAMB: What year was it started?
TALIAFERRO: Officially started 1927. The idea was conceived in '24. The sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, came in 1925.
LAMB: When was it finished?
TALIAFERRO: In 1941, almost minutes before Pearl Harbor.
LAMB: Who's on the mountain?
TALIAFERRO: I know the answer to that question! (LAUGHTER)
TALIAFERRO: George Washington, and then to his left -- the viewer's right -- is Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.
LAMB: First picture in the book is of this man right here, and he's holding a little boy. Who is it?
TALIAFERRO: That is Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of Mount Rushmore. I knew nothing really about him until I had been to Mount Rushmore and nothing about him until I started digging into the archives at the Library of Congress about him. And at that point, I really had to fight hard not to write a biography of Gutzon Borglum because he is such a terrifically fascinating, complex, colossal figure in his own right, forgotten today in arts circles, one of the great and most important sculptors of the early 20th century.
LAMB: In this picture, who's he holding?
TALIAFERRO: That is his son, Lincoln, who, of course, was named after his great hero, Abraham Lincoln, who was -- there's a model of a sculpture in the -- also in that photo, which is called "The Seated Lincoln," which is in front of the courthouse in Newark, New Jersey, one of his very first efforts at colossal sculpture.
LAMB: If I remember your book right, when Lincoln was 29 and his father died, he took over what was left of the Mount Rushmore?
TALIAFERRO: Yes, the son was the protégé, went with his father on all of his sculptural jobs, starting with Stone Mountain, Georgia, which was initially a Borglum project. And he would tag along with him. And he climbed the mountain for the first time with his father as a teenager and eventually became his right-hand man and took over the day-to-day operation. And when the father, Gutzon, died in the spring of 1941, the son took over and finished the mountain.
LAMB: Where could we find Gutzon Borglum's work in this country?
TALIAFERRO: Starting with the Capitol rotunda. There is a wonderful bust of Lincoln that if you go look at that, you understand how Borglum then got to Mount Rushmore. It was done -- forgive me, dates fly out of my head -- during the Roosevelt presidency. I want to say 1907, but that might be '08. It's a large head of Lincoln done in marble. If it were a full figure, it would have been on a man some 8 to 10 feet tall.

We think of Lincoln as a -- with dark features, with the dark eyes, all the famous photographs by Matthew Brady. We think of this character as -- of Lincoln as -- in shadow a lot. And Borglum did this bust of Lincoln in white marble, and it is a gorgeous, gorgeous treatment of him. Lincoln's son said it was the best piece ever done of him.

There's a wonderful sculpture of General Philip Sheridan in DuPont Circle here in Washington. Unfortunately, Borglum -- what would have been Borglum's biggest work, even bigger than Mount Rushmore, was never completed and ultimately destroyed, and that is at Stone Mountain, Georgia.
LAMB: What year was this picture taken?
TALIAFERRO: That picture was taken probably in the late teens or -- no, probably early teens. After the Civil War, there was a -- you know, a huge rush to create memorials to the fallen in both the North and the South. And the South, after it sort of caught its breath, decided it needed to have its memorials to match those in the North.

Stone Mountain is this huge granite formation 16 miles outside of Atlanta, and the Daughters of the Confederacy thought that wouldn't it be nice to have a little shrine there, perhaps a little niche at the bottom where you could come and ponder the heroes of the lost cause and maybe some busts carved into the side of it. And they invited Gutzon Borglum to come down and look at it. And he saw this canvas that was acres and acres, hundreds and hundreds of square feet, and he said, We need to give it its due. And he conceived a cavalcade of cavalry and artillery marching down the face of the mountain, ending up with Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson at the fore.

Unfortunately, he fell in with the wrong crowd down there, and the Klan was reemerging then, in 1915, same time as the movie "Birth of a Nation" was coming out. And Borglum, who liked the political thrust and parry considered himself a bit of a rebel himself, joined in with the Klan. And ultimately, when the Klan got to fighting amongst itself, they threw Borglum off the mountain.
LAMB: You said he got to be close friends with the -- was it the Grand Dragon, the number-two person in the Klan, D.C. Stephenson from Indiana.
TALIAFERRO: Yes. The -- I guess the greatest myth about the Klan is that they were all sort of redneck, a bunch of louts from the South. Well, what we've forgotten is that when the -- with the second coming of the Klan, beginning in 1915, there was a -- through to the early '20s, it was much more middle-class, much more -- the members were much more from the establishment, and they weren't just from the South. The majority of Klan members in the 1920s were from the Southwest and the Midwest. It was a huge political force in the 1924 presidential election. The Klan insisted it could bring 6,000 voters to the polling places. This fellow named D.C. Stephenson was the head of the Klan in Indiana. At his inauguration, an estimated 100,000 people, Klansmen in robes came to the inauguration. He was -- and he was in a power play with the Klan leaders in Atlanta.

There was some thought that the Klan could get a candidate elected to the presidency, even, for a while there.
LAMB: Borglum was fired from the Stone Mountain project when and why?
TALIAFERRO: Fired, why? Because of ego. A man who's going to carve mountains -- statues into mountains does not have a small ego. He was fired because they thought he wasn't spending enough time there. He was fired because he sided with this fellow from Indiana, D.C. Stephenson, who was trying to take over control of the Klan in Atlanta. He was fired because of -- he complained he wasn't getting paid enough. And they literally ran him out of town. He was -- he destroyed his models so that no one else could follow them. There was an arrest warrant issued. This was in 1925. And they chased him out of town, across the Georgia state line. A bunch of -- the sheriff and a bunch of Klan thugs chased him into Georgia.

And so he effectively fled Georgia to South Dakota. Just at the time things were falling apart in Georgia, he was getting letters saying, "Hey, we'd like to carve something out here, too."
LAMB: What -- if you go down there to Stone Mountain today, what do you see there?
TALIAFERRO: There is a carving that -- Borglum had gotten partly through the Robert E. Lee head and a little bit into Stonewall Jackson. That was blasted off the mountain. It took to the Nixon administration to complete Stone Mountain. There is a carving of the Confederate generals that Borglum had intended to carve, but they're by an entirely different group of artists.
LAMB: You say he was married twice and that his first wife was 18 years older than he was. What were the circumstances?
TALIAFERRO: Borglum's birth parents were Mormon. In fact, his father was a polygamist. His parents were Danish immigrants, came over with the -- with a wave of Mormon converts in the 1860s, and they all made the long trek out to Utah. And his father's wife -- wife's sisters -- if you follow me there -- came over a year later. And his father took the sister on as his second wife. And then the father decided he didn't want to be a Mormon anymore, and the prejudice against polygamy was very strong, and the Mormons were greatly persecuted, which is part of the reason why they ended up in Utah. And so the father decided to abandon one of his wives, and that happened to be Gutzon Borglum's mother. So when he was 6 years old, all of a sudden his mother was banished and disappeared from his life.

A long way of answering the question, why did he marry a woman 18 years older. Pop shrinks would suggest that he's looking for his mother.
LAMB: How long did he stay married to her?
TALIAFERRO: He stayed married to her a lot longer than he stayed with her.
LAMB: Who was she, by the way?
TALIAFERRO: She was an artist. He met her in California. She was a very talented landscape painter, and I think she brought him into the art world out there and encouraged him. And they went to Europe together and spent nearly 11 years in Europe, 1890s to the turn of the century, to 1901. Borglum -- and so their life together was as husband and wife, but as fellow artists. And that was also part of what was going on. I think he got to a certain level of talent and maybe didn't need her anymore.

And -- but in Europe -- he went to Europe as a painter and came home a sculptor. And the reason was Rodin. Rodin was, after Michelangelo, probably the most influential sculptor I can think of. And he happened to be at his -- Rodin happened to be at his height in Paris, when Borglum showed up. And it turned his head and turned his world around not just because of the sheer talent of Rodin, but Rodin was a celebrity. He was -- Rodin didn't respond to anybody else but himself, and he was a very powerful, potent, colorful person. And I think for the first time, being around Rodin, Borglum realized that an artist could be more than an artist and an artist could be a celebrity.
LAMB: How well did he know Rodin?
TALIAFERRO: Not that well. And it's a little hard to determine, but I -- Rodin -- he knew him well enough so Rodin remembered Borglum. And when Borglum got back to the United States, Rodin wrote letters to certain people, saying, This guy's good. You ought to pay attention to him. And they were real letters of entre that really gave Borglum a boost when he got back.
LAMB: You list, at one point in your book, the different places that Borglum lived in his life. And I want to tick them off and get you just to tell us a little bit about why he was there. The first one is Idaho.
TALIAFERRO: Yes, born in Idaho. The Mormon thing, when his parents moved just north of the Utah border into Idaho when he was born.
LAMB: Nebraska.
TALIAFERRO: Father left the Mormon church, went back to medical school in Nebraska, took the family with him.
LAMB: England.
TALIAFERRO: Gone to Europe to study art, sell art.
LAMB: How long did he live there?
TALIAFERRO: Couple years, three years.
LAMB: Spain.
TALIAFERRO: That's sort of a wilderness year. He -- we don't know that much about him, went down there to paint, to study. Not clear how...
LAMB: Young years?
TALIAFERRO: Yes. We're talking about in his 30s.
LAMB: France.
TALIAFERRO: Those years when he was studying sculpture and working -- absorbing Rodin and the Beaux Arts style there.
LAMB: New York?
TALIAFERRO: Where he settled when he came back from Europe in 1901. There was so much sculpture being commissioned there. That was the art center of -- for sculpture, anyway.
LAMB: Where did he meet his second wife?
TALIAFERRO: On the boat back from Europe.
LAMB: Under what circumstances?
TALIAFERRO: She was coming home from finishing a Ph.D. This was a woman who got a Ph.D. from the University of Berlin, one of the very first women ever to receive a Ph.D. there. Spoke about six different languages. Her parents had been Protestant missionaries in Turkey. And he fell in love with her on the boat.
LAMB: How long were they married?
TALIAFERRO: Until -- she survived him, so they were married, oh, gosh -- putting me on the spot on the man -- more than 30 years.
LAMB: How many children did he have by both women?
TALIAFERRO: None by the first. By the -- and that was one of the reasons for the break-up of the first marriage. And two, Lincoln, who we've talked about, and another -- a daughter named Mary Ellis, who has just passed away this year.
LAMB: Did you know her?
TALIAFERRO: No, I did not.
LAMB: He lived in Connecticut?
TALIAFERRO: Yes, moved to New York and then bought an estate up near Stamford.
LAMB: How long was he there?
TALIAFERRO: Well, he kept it for a long time, but he got -- he borrowed money and got behind, and then he started doing these commissions in Georgia, in South Dakota. He moved to Texas for a while. He thought there were a lot of big jobs there. So while he kept his estate, which he called Borgland, by the way, he didn't go back there that much.
LAMB: How long did he live in Georgia?
TALIAFERRO: Stone Mountain was begun in 1915. The war broke out, so he left that job for a while, came back in '22 and left in '25.
LAMB: How long was he in San Antonio?
TALIAFERRO: Part of the year, from 1925 through until about 1936 or '37.
LAMB: Did he ever live in D.C., Washington?
TALIAFERRO: No. He was here often. He was a -- this -- he was a great political operator. He knew everybody. He could go up to the door of the White House and knock on the door and they'd let him in, beginning with Roosevelt through to Roosevelt. He would stay at the -- he was a member of the -- what is the club...
LAMB: Metropolitan Club.
TALIAFERRO: Metropolitan Club. I'm getting it confused with -- the Century Club in New York, Metropolitan here. Yes.
LAMB: He also lived for a while, as you say, in California. And how long was he out there?
TALIAFERRO: Briefly, when he was a very young man, a teenager, and then when he got married several years later.
LAMB: You say that the -- Mount Rushmore cost $989,000 in 1941 money, I guess, or in that -- back in those years, but that the feds paid for $836,000.
TALIAFERRO: Yes. There's a great story about that. They thought they could raise the money through philanthropy. In 19 -- in the late '20s, there was a lot of wealth in the United States. But before they got very far -- got going very far on Mount Rushmore, of course, the stock market crashed, and all of a sudden, the people who had any money were holding -- had lost it or they were holding onto what they had.

In the summer of 1927, two years before the crash, President Calvin Coolidge was looking for a place to spend his summer vacation. The White House was being renovated. His son had died from a blister he'd gotten playing tennis without socks on the White House lawn, and Grace and Calvin Coolidge were saddened by that and did not want to spend another -- summers in the White House. So they went casting about for a place to stay, and every state in the nation wanted the president, as dull as he was, to come there for summer vacation. Somehow, the Black Hills of South Dakota won that lottery, and Calvin Coolidge and his wife arrived in the summer of 1927.

By a total coincidence, it was when Borglum was just getting to work on Mount Rushmore. And Coolidge said he was on vacation. He wasn't going to give any speeches. But it was also the summer of Charles Lindbergh flying the transatlantic flight. And so air miracles were on everybody's tongue. So Borglum hired a plane, flew over the summer White House and dropped a note onto the lawn, inviting the president and the first lady to the dedication of Mount Rushmore, and they accepted.

And Coolidge, like so many others, was taken by Borglum and his talent and his charm and his -- just his forcefulness, and said, When I get back to Washington, I'm going to tell the Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon to help you out here. And so what began as -- what should have been a privately funded project ended up being a publicly funded project.
LAMB: You also broke it down and suggest that over 17 years, he made an average of $10,000 a year on the project?
TALIAFERRO: Yes, and he thought...
LAMB: For himself.
TALIAFERRO: ... he was only going to work there part-time. After all, they could only work on Mount Rushmore in the warm months. It's a tough winter up there in the Black Hills. And he thought he could dash off to other parts of the country, down to Texas, where there was a lot of oil money and people wanted big monuments to various causes. And he thought he could do that with his left hand and with his son and others, supervise Mount Rushmore. Didn't work out, and he was bound to the mountain, like Prometheus.
LAMB: Where did you get interested in this, in the first place?
TALIAFERRO: I went there. I was just -- it was one of those "pull off the interstate" deals, almost, and...
LAMB: What year?
TALIAFERRO: About 1996. And I pulled in there, and I was just -- I didn't know what I thought. Here was this massive, colossal sculpture in the middle of the nation. It's a monument to an idea. I mean, the statue -- it doesn't even compare to the Statue of Liberty, after all, which is there at New York harbor, where Ellis Island is, where the immigrants came in. Here is a monument not so much to a person, it's not a monument to a battle, such as Gettysburg, it's a shrine of democracy. It's a monument to an idea. Forced me to want to think about those ideas. It made me -- it just opened up a lot of my pores intellectually, and I wanted to sort out what I really thought.
LAMB: How many books have been written about this?
TALIAFERRO: Oh, perhaps a dozen.
LAMB: And how is yours different?
TALIAFERRO: The previous books have done a very good job of telling the nitty-gritty of how Mount Rushmore was carved, which is a wonderful, fascinating story, as interesting and as heroic as, say, the accounts of building the Golden Gate Bridge, the Hoover Dam or something like that, how 200 out-of-work miners were turned into skilled stone carvers by Gutzon Borglum, and the process of taking a small model and turning it into large heads on a -- on a living mountain -- fascinating story. And I tell that story also.

I wanted to go beyond that and talk about what was there before, how it was conceived and also very much how Mt. Rushmore has been received. I think sort of one of the lessons that I've learned, or one of the things I've thought about and even more so in the last year is we as Americans put our values and our ideals before the public and say this is what we stand for but we can't guarantee how they will be received.

Well, Mt. Rushmore is very representative of that. This is truly, more than anything I can think of, it's our monument of who we are, what we stand for. These four presidents embodying various American values and so Mt. Rushmore has been interpreted. Not everybody receives that message in the same way including Native Americans.
LAMB: Well, this picture here of him, which Lincoln statue is that next to him?
TALIAFERRO: That is the bust that is in the Capitol Rotunda.
LAMB: If you look at him in that picture, I don't know what you see but it looks to me like he's not a very happy man.
TALIAFERRO: Borglum's interpretation of Lincoln was not as a great orator or as a statesman or as a rail splitter, that Lincoln. Borglum was fascinated by the pensive, reflective Lincoln. One of the other Lincolns, that's “The Seated Lincoln” that's before the courthouse in Newark, Borglum called his Lincoln at Gethsemane during the Civil War. President Lincoln would go out into the garden after receiving bad news from the front and look inward and Borglum I think more than anyone else saw that side of Lincoln.

And having done a couple of Lincoln sculptures, there were so many done after Lincoln's death it was an industry doing Lincoln statues. There's one everywhere. We all can think of one, including the Lincoln Memorial which Borglum was very jealous of. He had wanted that to be his vision. He thought Lincoln belonged to him. One of the reasons why he did Mt. Rushmore was to show those people in Washington what Lincoln really should look like.
LAMB: But if you go back to the picture of him and his expression, you paint in the book a man who at one point or another was anti-Semitic, anti-Black, anti-Indian.
TALIAFERRO: That's a pretty strong way to put it. The evidence of anti-Semitism is a little more evident. I wouldn't say that he was anti-Black or anti-Indian. Yes, his involvement with the clan was not just - he was not just being opportunistic. It wasn't just a way to gain power when he was working and clout when he was working in Georgia.

He actually believed that the clan platform was a worthy platform and his letters and correspondence are full of anti-Semitic rhetoric. The Indian story is a little more complicated.
LAMB: Before you go to the Indians, let me just ask you about Eugene Meyer who was Jewish and owned "The Washington Post" here. What was his relationship with him? He called him a shylock you say.
TALIAFERRO: Shylock, yes. Arguably Borglum would have not gotten - we wouldn't be here talking about this if it weren't for Eugene Meyer. Eugene Meyer was an investment banker in New York when Borglum did his first Lincoln bust. Meyer decided to buy it and donate it to the U.S. Government. It was placed in the White House briefly and then placed in perpetuity in the rotunda. That really gave Borglum his entre.
LAMB: He's Catherine Graham's father, Eugene Meyer?
TALIAFERRO: Meyer then went from his New York investment banking business, moved to Washington, worked in the Wilson administration, some other administrations, bought "The Washington Post." His daughter was Catherine Graham.

Meyer also loaned Borglum a ton of money, really was his patron, to buy land in Connecticut where he was going to set up his estate and studio and Borglum never paid him back. He was an artist in that sense that money didn't represent money to him and Meyer was very patient with him, very persistent though, and Borglum just wouldn't pay him back and then ultimately wrote some letters back to him and said, you know, isn't that just, you know, his being like an ultra-Jew to do this and started calling him a shylock and it really hurt Meyer's feelings, needless to say, and Borglum alienated a very good friend and a true supporter.
LAMB: You say that he promised women that he'd put a woman somewhere on the mountain and he promised the Indians that he would put an Indian at the eagle's nest wherever that was.
TALIAFERRO: Oh, that's a wonderful story about Susan B. Anthony. Just as he was getting to the end of Mt. Rushmore, there was a national campaign, a women's movement to get some memorial somewhere of Susan B. Anthony and there was a woman named Rose Arnold Powell who took it on as her life's mission to promote the image of Susan B. Anthony and corresponded with Borglum for years and years and years.

And, he backhandedly with sort of a wink and a nod said yes, we'll find a place somewhere on the mountain for her and she enlisted Eleanor Roosevelt too to push for it, and there was actually some legislation drawn up to add Susan B. Anthony to Mt. Rushmore. It never got anywhere.

Borglum had a sort of noble savage appreciation of Native Americans, of Indians who were on their reservations. The Pine Ridge Reservation is not far from Mt. Rushmore. It is today and has been for a long time one of the poorest places in America. The Lakota Sioux were one of the fiercest, strongest tribes on the plains and how far they fell -- they had defeated Custer and the army wanted them to pay for it.

So, Borglum developed some sympathy for them, went down to the reservation, did things for them. If they came up to the mountain...
LAMB: Did you say, a couple carloads full, I mean railroad cars full of stuff?
TALIAFERRO: Yes, they're in the '30s when things were dust bowl times, he made sure that they got some food and blankets. Let me back up a little. Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills are the Holy mount to Native Americans, particularly the Lakota Sioux Indians. Some of their most sacred rituals and ceremonies are held there, their vision quests, their sun dances. There is nothing more sacred to these Indians than the Black Hills.
LAMB: How many are there out there now? How many Lakota Sioux are left?
TALIAFERRO: I don't have, I can't site the tribal registry but 30,000, 40,000 I think would be on the reservation and in the hills.
LAMB: Isn't there, don't they have a claim right now to a certain amount of money that's being kept for them?
TALIAFERRO: You might remember the Bradley Bill. Well, the Supreme Court, there was a lawsuit filed back in the '20s saying that the Black Hills, the treaty had been violated and the Black Hills had been taken unjustly from the Sioux. It worked all the way through the courts up into the '80s and it went to the Court of Claims and award was given. It was upheld by the Supreme Court, payment for this breach of treaty.

Well, the Lakota Sioux said we don't want this money. We want our Black Hills back. If we take this money it's like wampum. We don't want it. And so it sits in a trust fund in Washington, $600 million now. Shannon County where Pine Ridge Reservation is, is the poorest county in the United States. Six hundred million dollars would help, but this is the strength, this is the passion of the Sioux. This is how badly they want the Black Hills back. They want Mt. Rushmore back.
LAMB: Who has claim specifically to that $600 million right now?
TALIAFERRO: The Sioux tribe of South Dakota.
LAMB: If they took the money, it would be dispersed among them?
TALIAFERRO: It would be dispersed, yes, and I can't remember what the number would come out to but, you know several thousand dollars per person or obviously maybe it wouldn't be divvied person by person. But anyway this is all moot because if there is one thing that the Lakota agree on is we don't want the money. We want what was rightfully ours and they have a good argument.
LAMB: So, the eagle's nest, where is it, and why did he promise the Sioux that he'd put a face up there of, who was it going to be Crazy Horse?
TALIAFERRO: That's a funny story. Indians who Borglum loved and wanted to help came to him and said look we have our heroes too. We want some recognition that we were here first and we had great men also and he said well, I'll find a place for you, as he said where the eagles nest. He was speaking in that sort of White man's version of Indian lingo, but he was a little vague about that and never really did follow through.

And, what happened was another sculptor showed up in the Black Hills, a man named Korczak Ziolkowski who went on and took that idea and ran with it and I'm sure you're familiar with his Crazy Horse memorial which is many times the size of Mt. Rushmore and it's a work in progress, and it's even more controversial than Mt. Rushmore.
LAMB: What is it about 19, 20 miles away from Mt. Rushmore?
TALIAFERRO: Yes, that's about right.
LAMB: And it's still being built?
TALIAFERRO: And it will be built for many more generations. This man, Ziolkowski, is dead. His children are working on it.
LAMB: Wait. Go back and tell the story, while you're talking also about the eagle's nest, about how the fellow that started Crazy Horse worked for Borglum for a while.
TALIAFERRO: Yes, he was a sculptor from Connecticut. He came out and worked for Borglum for about three weeks and people who, sculptors in general but sculptors of colossal sculpture are pretty headstrong and they didn't get along. And, Ziolkowski was fired from the job after three weeks. Borglum said get out of here.

There was rumored to have been a fight between Borglum's son Lincoln and Ziolkowski on the mountain over chain of command or who knows what. And anyway, they sent this young guy packing and this was in the '30s. World War II came and nobody did any work on the mountain and Ziolkowski came back in the late '40s and said I've got an even bigger idea.

Very controversial from a Native American standpoint, arguably Crazy Horse the great Lakota Holy man, chief, warrior gave his life to keep White people from the Black Hills.
LAMB: And you say that they don't...
TALIAFERRO: And now they're building this immense memorial, which is to him but it's an enormous magnet for tourists and...
LAMB: You say it doesn't even look like him?
TALIAFERRO: Well, no one knows what Crazy Horse looked like. He refused to be photographed, you know. He refused to sign a treaty, refused to sleep in a bed, so when they had the inauguration, when they had the dedication, when they began work on Crazy Horse, their model was there and there was some - at that point, there were still some survivors of Little Big Horn and some people who had known Crazy Horse who came and said it doesn't look like our friend.
LAMB: Quick thing on the money, when you go to Mt. Rushmore, does it cost anything to go see it?
TALIAFERRO: The original legislation said it's got to be free but the parking costs.
LAMB: So you pay a parking fee?
TALIAFERRO: You pay a parking fee, you know.
LAMB: Eight bucks?
TALIAFERRO: Is that what it is? I can't remember. Yes, something like eight bucks.
LAMB: So, when you go over to Crazy Horse, what's the deal there?
TALIAFERRO: Oh, it's private. It's private enterprise. That's the American dream, yes. It costs eight bucks to get in or how many per car.
LAMB: You had $19 per car, $19 a car where you could load it up.
TALIAFERRO: Yes, I think that's right.
LAMB: And the family is still there. What did he have ten kids?
TALIAFERRO: He had a bunch of kids, yes and they're all hardworking and dedicated to their father's dream, and his widow is also there and she's a force of nature herself and very well regarded by a broad range of people.
LAMB: But in the end, Gutzon Borglum didn't put an Indian on the mountain, didn't put a woman on the mountain, but as you say he got away with promising he would.
TALIAFERRO: Yes, well the issue dropped with respect to Mt. Rushmore as soon as the Crazy Horse thing came on. You got to understand that the Indians consider blowing up carving into their sacred Black Hills is like gouging flesh from the breast of their mother. So even if it's a memorial to one of their greatest leaders the irony of blowing up the Black Hills to honor Crazy Horse doesn't sit well with a lot of Native Americans. A lot of Native Americans support it. I would suggest that a majority don't.
LAMB: Which book is this for you?
TALIAFERRO: Third book.
LAMB: What were your first two?
TALIAFERRO: The first was a biography of the western artist Charles Russell. The second book was called "Tarzan Forever," a biography of Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator of Tarzan. I like to take these American images, the cowboy and hold them up and treat them as sort of a Rorschach of our culture.
LAMB: Where do you live now?
TALIAFERRO: I live in two places, Austin, Texas, and also in Montana, a little bit outside of Yellowstone National Park.
LAMB: Why the two places?
TALIAFERRO: They're both great places. I can't make up my mind. I married a Texan, moved to Austin in 1979, knocked around in journalism for a few years, about ten years decided that books was going to be the way to go and bought a little house in Montana. I go up when it's hot in Texas.
LAMB: When you were in journalism before books, what did you do?
TALIAFERRO: Last year I was with "Newsweek." I was senior editor in New York and briefly a bureau chief in Los Angeles.
LAMB: For how long?
TALIAFERRO: Three years.
LAMB: Where did you grow up?
TALIAFERRO: Native of Baltimore, left age nine, upstate New York, schools in New England.
LAMB: Where?
TALIAFERRO: Secondary school Phillips Exeter Academy, college Harvard.
LAMB: Studied what at Harvard?
TALIAFERRO: That's a tough question. I would say education is what you get when you're going to college. I was an English major.
LAMB: Now, when you wrote this book and researched it, researched it and wrote it, did you feel better about Mt. Rushmore and what it symbolizes or worse after you finished?
TALIAFERRO: That is a good question. I felt better. I mean I - what I shrank from, what unsettled me about Mt. Rushmore was the story was too simplified, that America can be boiled down into a bumper sticker. I like it when things are a little messier.

The fact that the creator of our shrine of democracy also had been a Klansman, this is a little more complicated there that our values, as good as they are, our message of democracy comes from a stew that is not pure. Good people can do bad things. Bad people can do good things. I like that part of the discussion of our American civilization.

Nationalism is a complicated subject and I think I got at it fairly successfully through this book. This book is much more than just a book about a couple hundred guys chiseling four faces on a big rock. It's really about who are these men, why we've worshipped them? What are the values that they are projecting into the future?
LAMB: One of the other things you did was write about Keystone, right where Mt. Rushmore is and the rebuilding of the facilities, the National Park Service. I want to show that we were out there over a year ago and did a program on it but those who didn't see it, you can see on the screen there, that's the Mt. Rushmore Visitor's Center, and how new is this?
TALIAFERRO: Completed in 1998 and it's a wonderful structure. Mt. Rushmore gets two and a half million people a year, visitors, so that's over, most of them coming over about a six-month period. Yellowstone Park, which is two million acres, gets roughly three million visitors a year. Mt. Rushmore, which is in terms of the acreage that people can actually set foot on is like 12.

So, it's packed. It's a city at the end of a long highway, so Mt. Rushmore, finally somebody said look we've got a traffic jam here. We've got to deal with the number of visitors. So, this is the avenue of the flags. You come in through this wonderful colonnade, a visitor's center, and it's like going down the center aisle of a cathedral with these columns. I think they did a wonderful job. These are the flags of all the United States and the territories.

And so, you walk down it and then you come to this viewing terrace at the end and it's like standing at the bow of a ship, all of the parking facilities and the visitor centers are all of a sudden behind you and it's just you and the mountain. You could be in an immense crowd in a summer day of 20,000, 30,000 people and feel quite alone with this sculpture and I think that's the great achievement of the Park Service.
LAMB: The face that's hardest to see when you're just standing there is the one in the middle, or not the middle but it's the Theodore Roosevelt face.
LAMB: And Gutzon Borglum had quite a history with this man. When did he first meet him, Theodore Roosevelt?
TALIAFERRO: He had done a little bit of work, a little bit of carving for Roosevelt for his house at Oyster Bay, Long Island. He did the first Lincoln bust that Eugene Meyer had commissioned. Roosevelt admired it. It was in the White House briefly and Roosevelt made sure it got into the rotunda.

Then, Borglum and Rushmore were in some ways the same -- Borglum and Roosevelt were in some ways the same person. They were stocky. They had a bristling moustache. They believed in this strenuous life. They were both very athletic and Borglum worshipped Roosevelt and got to know him personally.

You'll recall in 1912 when - in 1908, Roosevelt decided not to run for reelection. Taft came in. Roosevelt didn't like how Taft had run the White House, decided to run again as a Bull Moose in 1912 and Borglum became very involved in his presidential race, and there was immense amount of personal correspondence. It's hard to imagine Borglum without Roosevelt in the picture as well.
LAMB: Well, he knew him since he was a police commissioner in New York?
TALIAFERRO: Yes, that's right.
LAMB: Did he get on the mountain because of their personal friendship?
TALIAFERRO: I think so. Roosevelt died in 1919. Mt. Rushmore was conceived in 1925. There was a big -- there was an immense amount of money raised for a Roosevelt memorial. What a lot of people forget is that where the Jefferson Memorial is now in Washington was supposed to be the Roosevelt memorial. They had the money in place to build a Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt memorial there but then some Democrats came forward and there was the centennial of the death of Jefferson said look there's no Jefferson memorial here.

So, there was a big movement for a Roosevelt memorial. Borglum had known Roosevelt and said hey I want to be the guy to do that. It wasn't happening in Washington and he said I'm going to put my guy out here in South Dakota. Also remember that Roosevelt, after his wife had died, had gone out and been a rancher in South Dakota briefly.
LAMB: You also write a lot about, well not a lot but at the end you write about Keystone and one man who seems to have done very well there.
TALIAFERRO: Keystone is the community closest to Mt. Rushmore. It's the little tourist town at the bottom of the mountain with all the little gift shops and ice cream stands, and I wanted to meet the movers and shakers of this town because after all Mt. Rushmore was conceived as a way to draw tourists to western South Dakota and it did that in spades.

I met a wonderful man named Bill Durst who owns or controls most of the businesses in Keystone and two or three of the hotels, the definition of an entrepreneur. He'd grown up in the Black Hills and he has in a sense taken Borglum's lead and carved out the side of the mountain in Keystone to put in hotels.

He just completed a hotel several years ago called The President's View, where you can sit in your room or some of the rooms and look across at Mt. Rushmore. It's the final shoe dropping I suppose on the dream of Gutzon Borglum and the other people in the Black Hills who wanted Mt. Rushmore to be carved, that if we build it they will come. Well, they came and then this is the buildings that are coming in.
LAMB: How many of the stores does he own?
TALIAFERRO: Gosh, what is it, 20 or something? It's hard to remember the numbers from my own. Yes, but he is the - he's got Boardwalk and Park Place and a lot of the other cards on the Monopoly board there. I can't tell you, you know, Mt. Rushmore when it was conceived was remote. You drove across dirt roads. There were scarcely any bridges across the major rivers in the west and you drove for days and you looked up on the hill and there was this carving.

And now, when you drive across South Dakota, it's Wall Drug, Reptile Garden, Bear Country USA. It comes at you for hundreds of miles. Mt. Rushmore is the engine that drives that economy but it's one of the things people come to see when they come to this region. It was a case of build Mt. Rushmore so we can get a tourism industry started.
LAMB: How far is it from Rapid City?
TALIAFERRO: About half an hour, 20 miles.
LAMB: And one of the things you said about your friend Mr. Durst is when a bus would drive up outside, he'd say that's worth $5,000 right there.
TALIAFERRO: Well, he's a frank man and I really enjoyed his company. He was quite open, took me in, but yes, you know, tour busses come into his hotel and when I first interviewed him, this big bus of Midwestern senior citizens pulled up outside his window and the airbrakes went off and he says you hear that? He said what is that? I said that's the brakes. He said no, that's $5,000. They come and stay in his hotels, eat in his restaurants. He is one of the great visionaries of that area.
LAMB: In the end, who made the selection of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln?
LAMB: Totally his decision?
TALIAFERRO: Well, his first sketch was of a profile of a Continental soldier, of Washington. Then they thought about adding Lincoln and then one by one Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt. But I'm sure Roosevelt wouldn't have been there if they had not been friends.
LAMB: So, if someone has never been there and they've always wanted to go, how much time should they give themselves in order to have a good experience?
TALIAFERRO: I think Mt. Rushmore is worth spending part of two days. I think it's great to see it in the light. I urge anybody who's going there to go for the largest tourist experience but also go to treat Mt. Rushmore as a work of art.

If I could add anything is that with all the kitsch and all the tourist culture stuff and even the message of patriotism, all of that aside, Mt. Rushmore is a terrific piece of sculpture done by a great American sculptor, and to go there and to see it in the early morning light, which is what Borglum intended, to get see it in the evening when they turn the lights on, to walk around it, to look at the carvings as one would if they were in a museum I think is really worthwhile, so a day or so.
LAMB: Your next book?
TALIAFERRO: Haven't decided.
LAMB: Not even close?
TALIAFERRO: I'm not going to tell you.
LAMB: A person, an issue, an idea?
LAMB: John Taliaferro our guest. Here's the cover of the book, called "Great White Fathers: The Story of the Obsessive Quest to Create Mt. Rushmore." Thank you very much.
TALIAFERRO: Thank you.

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