googlead166c37c697d4d3.html Glenn Ashton Author Blog: Richard Nixon’s revenge on Mount Rushmore?

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Richard Nixon’s revenge on Mount Rushmore?

Just returned from touring the Joshua Tree National Park in California, and discovered something remarkable. President Richard Nixon, of Watergate fame, is not honoured by having his likeness carved into the side of Mount Rushmore, but it seems that Tricky Dick might have pulled a fast one on all of us!

We were driving from along the Keys View Road in the Park, towards Hidden Valley, when I spotted Nixon’s Revenge.

A large rock formation reared up on the side of the road. As we passed it, the side view of the rock showed the profile of Richard Nixon. No Ifs, Buts or doubts about it: it was the spitting image of Tricky Dick.

Saddle Rocks in Joshua Tree National Park aka Nixon's Revenge

Known as Saddle Rocks, the largest single rock formation in Joshua Tree National Park rises some 600 feet from the valley floor, just below the west flank of Ryan Mountain. Rock climbers divide the rock into three parts, the Saddle Rock Skirt, at the bottom, the Pommel in the middle, and the Cantle at the top.

You can find Nixon’s revenge in Queen Valley in Joshua Tree National Park, on the site of a former cattle ranch spread known as Ryan Ranch. Brothers Jepp and Tom Ryan laid pipe in 1896 to pump water from the natural spring to Lost Horse Mine, as well as raising cattle. Two adobe structures are all that remain of their ranch.

Saddle Rock has three summits – they make up the heavy chin of Nixon, his most prominent facial feature (the long, oddly shaped nose), and his prominent forehead. Rock climbers call these the Lower, Middle and Upper Summits.

When you compare the various photos of Nixon in this post with Saddle Rocks, you will note the similarities that struck me.

President Richard Nixon in repose


Rock climbers who love face climbing love Saddle Rock, but those who prefer crack climbing can find plenty on this big hunk of rock, and slab climbers will not be disappointed. There are routes for all up Nixon’s Revenge.

The names for the various routes up Nixon’s Revenge are interesting, and illustrative of the difficulty of the climbs: Walk on the Wild Side is one; then there is Right On, Harley Queen and Where Have all the Cowboys Gone.


Saddle Rocks


Nixon laid back - # 1


Nixon laid back - # 2

Nixon laid back - # 3



I find these names ironic, given Nixon’s secretive, buttoned-down and outwardly prim nature and behaviour.

One could never imagine Nixon walking on the Wild Side – the closest he got was probably that painful photo shoot with in the Oval Office with Elvis Presley! “I’m on your side,” The Pelvis told Nixon after Nixon talked about drugs and communists, and then asked Nixon if he would give Presley a Bureau of Narcotics badge ...

Here’s how that meeting was set up by Elvis:


Elvis was traveling with some guns and his collection of police badges, and he decided that what he really wanted was a badge from the federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs back in Washington. "The narc badge represented some kind of ultimate power to him," Priscilla Presley would write in her memoir, Elvis and Me. "With the federal narcotics badge, he [believed he] could legally enter any country both wearing guns and carrying any drugs he wished."
 After just one day in Los Angeles, Elvis asked Schilling to fly with him back to the capital. "He didn't say why," Schilling recalls, "but I thought the badge might be part of the reason."

On the red-eye to Washington, Elvis scribbled a letter to President Nixon. "Sir, I can and will be of any service that I can to help the country out," he wrote. All he wanted in return was a federal agent's badge. "I would love to meet you," he added, informing Nixon that he'd be staying at the Washington Hotel under the alias Jon Burrows. "I will be here for as long as it takes to get the credentials of a federal agent."
Elvis Presley letter to Nixon asking for a meeting

After they landed, Elvis and Schilling took a limo to the White House, and Elvis dropped off his letter at an entrance gate at about 6:30 a.m. Once they checked in at their hotel, Elvis left for the offices of the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. He got a meeting with a deputy director, but not approval for a bureau badge.

And let’s face it – the Watergate tapes that Nixon recorded in the Oval Office prove that Nixon was anything but a Right On kind of guy. His discussions with his aides about getting people, setting them up, and getting even, belie that. Nixon preferred the roundabout way to the straight and narrow.

Mount Rushmore with four presidents


Nixon would never have his face added to Mount Rushmore, not even if hell froze over. The antipathy towards this man is so great that any suggestion for something like that would be laughed out of court.

But when you look at Saddle Rocks, if you keep an open mind, you will have to agree that it is really a case of nature providing for Nixon’s Revenge by carving this granite mountain out over the millenia so that it shows Nixon in profile.

We might not revere Nixon, but is Nature doing that all on her own?

Saddle Rocks aka Nixon's Revenge


But first, a little bit about Mount Rushmore. Four sixty-foot high heads of presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln were carved into the granite face of this mountain near Keystone, South Dakota, by Danish-American Gutzon Borglum and his son, Lincoln. Historian Doane Robinson came up with the idea for the heads, and he and Borglum settled on Mount Rushmore when the sculptor rejected the Needles mountain as unsuitable.

Gutzon Borglum with model


Borglum also persuaded Robinson to drop the idea of carving likenesses of some Western heroes into the mountain (such as Buffalo Bill and explorers Lewis and Clark), and to let him carve the four presidents instead. Borglum started carving in 1927, using 400 workers, and it was finished in 1941 by his son.

Money was a problem, so like Nixon’s Revenge, only the head of each of the four presidents is visible (the original plan was for each president to be shown from the waist up).

Before it got its final name, the mountain had been called Cougar Mountain, Sugarloaf Mountain, Slaughterhouse Mountain and Keystone Cliffs by settlers. The husband of the younger sister of the author of The Little House on the Prairies gave it the name of Rushmore.


Gutzon Borglum checking his carving of Mount Rushmore

Richard Nixon was connected through controversy to another massive carving, of Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, on Stone Mountain in Georgia.

Stone Mountain, Georgia


The three Confederate leaders are riding their favourite horses, Blackjack, Traveller, and Little Sorrel. The biggest bas relief in the world, it covers an area equal to just over two football fields; the carving is four hundred feet above the ground, and is carved over forty feet into the side of the mountain. Lee’s sword is fifty feet long, and Traveller is 141 feet from nose to tail tip.

Mrs. Helen Plane, a charter member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, dreamed up the idea of paying homage to Confederate leaders. Her husband had fought in the Civil War with General Robert E. Lee, and was killed at Gettysburg. She wanted Lee’s figure to  be carved on the largest piece of exposed granite in the world, and so persuaded the owners of Stone Mountain, the Venable Brothers, to hire the future sculptor of the Mount Rushmore heads – Gutzon Borglum – to do this in 1915.

Borglum visited the mountain and agreed that Lee should be carved into the granite side; he then added the idea of an army marching behind the famous general.

Plane thought of Borglum as a Yankee (he was a native of the Idaho Territory), but warmed to the idea of Lee being followed by Confederate President Jefferson Davis and five other generals, and a group of 65 officers – five each chosen by the 13 Confederate states – behind them.

Borglum began, but soon had disputes with the owners and backers. After going public through a newspaper interview, he was kicked off the project in 1925 and started work on Mount Rushmore instead. The carving was finished in 1972.

Scaffolding on Mount Rushmore during its carving


When he was fired, Borglum destroyed the  models he had done, and fled Georgia when he was charged with malicious mischief. The project committee then tried to extradite him from North Carolina, but found that they could not extradite him for a misdemeanor. Nothing daunted, the annoyed Committee promptly had legislation passed in Georgia to create a felony charge of larceny. Armed with this, they tried yet again to extradite Borglum, but North Carolina told them to take a hike, and that was that.

Sam Venable had deeded the Ku Klux Klan the right to hold their meetings on Stone Mountain. Georgia bought the mountain in 1958, and the state’s governor had to condemn its own land to remove the deed given to the Klan by Sam.

Before the carving was finally finished, the hat carved for President Davis caused a problem. A military hat had been carved into the granite by jet torch for him, but someone pointed out that Davis, a civilian, never had the right to wear a military hat. A civilian hat was carved into a piece of granite and inserted into the cliff face above Davis. Problem solved.

A new type of torch was used to carve the mountain:

Stone Mountain’s Confederate Memorial Carving was created with a specially designed torch, one rigged with separate hoses shooting water, oxygen and kerosene through a long tube. The kerosene and oxygen heated the granite and carved it away; the water cooled it back down to prevent cracking. Roy Faulkner’s predecessors used 10- to 12-foot tubes, but he used three- and four-foot versions for better control and improved attention to the gentle detail.
 “Faster” can be a relative term. Eight years, five months and 19 days — the tally Roy Faulkner still rattles off without blinking — were spent on that mountain, including the time setting up elevators and scaffolding. Lunches were eaten perched under the noses of Confederate heroes and Christmas trees were placed in granite enclaves.

The carving was to be dedicated on May 9, 1970, and Nixon was invited to attend this. Hoping to cement his standing with the South, Nixon was ready to attend, when all hell broke loose.

On May 4, 1970, the National Guard of Ohio opened fire on students at Kent State University who were protesting the Vietnam war. Nixon was tone deaf to the protests, and was determined to attend the dedication, until the uproar forced him to reconsider. After talking it over with many people, he finally backed off, and the hapless Vice President Spiro Agnew took his place at the dedication.

Note even the photograph on the front page of the New York Times of an girl screaming, with student Jeff Miller’s body beneath her, seemed to trigger a recognition by Nixon that his planned visit to the Georgia mountain might be the wrong thing to do at that time of upheaval.

The Gettysburg Times reported on the day of dedication that the theme of the dedication was Unity Through Sacrifice.

According to the Times report:

Agnew was named as [Nixon’s] substitute and a controversy immediately developed.
 A Civil War historian, Dr. Bell Wiley, told the Stone Mountain Memorial association, of which he is a member, that the vice president’s appearance would be an afront to Gen. Lee.

“Gen. Lee believed in the right of dissent,” Wiley said. “He had serious doubts about slavery. He joined the cause of the Confederacy because he believed in the sovereignty of the states.”

Agnew, famous for defending Nixon’s silent majority with his sayings, such as accusing opponents of being nattering nabobs of negativism, at the time was under a cloud of charges of income tax evasion and of taking bribes while governor of Maryland. Reverend Billy Graham bowed out due to illness, and when a black pastor was chosen to replace him, Imperial Wizard James R. Venable of the Ku Klux Klan boycotted the dedication ceremony. Only one-tenth of the hundred thousand expected at the dedication turned up, and the Wishbone Chicken Company was left with around eight thousand of the ten thousand boxes of fried chicken it expected to sell at the ceremony. Agnew said that Davis, Lee and Jackson “were bonded together in war, and now are bonded together for the ages on a great mountain  of granite.”

Mount Rushmore being carved


What about the dedication of the Mount Rushmore faces? That of Washington took place in 1934, followed by Jefferson in 1936 and Lincoln in 1937.

But civil rights reared its head in 1937, when a bill was tabled in the House of Representatives to add another head to the four presidents – that of civil-rights leader Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906). Anthony had fought fiercely for the rights of women, and against slavery. In 1878 she arranged for a constitutional amendment to allow women to vote to be tabled in Congress, and in 1920 the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed, and known as the Anthony Amendment in her honour.

Anthony’s face was not added to Mount Rushmore  because a rider was tacked on to an appropriations bill providing that federal funds only be used to complete the heads already started in 1937. So, in 1939, the face of Teddy Roosevelt was dedicated.

Four men but no women grace this magnificent mountain.

Perhaps Americans might have to wait for a female president before a fifth head is added?

Mount Rushmore Hall of Records entryway


The 1979 dollar coin does depict Anthony’s face, though, so she did gain some belated recognition for her efforts!

There is another similarity between Stone Mountain and Mount Rushmore. The original plan for Rushmore was for the four presidents to be shown from the waist up, but in 1941 money ran out and only the heads now appear.

Also, Borglum, who had objected to the huge number of carvings proposed for Stone Mountain, had wanted to enlarge the Rushmore carvings to include a depiction of the Louisiana Purchase as a panel, showing the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and eight acquisitions of territories inside the panel. Lack of funding nixed this idea.

However, behind the four faces is a canyon, and in the canyon in 1998 a chamber was cut, some seventy feet deep into the rock, for a vault with sixteen porcelain enamel panels. Borglum’s own biography appears on one of the panels; others contain the biographies of the four presidents, the Declaration of Independence, and the US Constitution. The vault is the entryway to a Hall of Records.

Mount Rushmore laser projection by the Scottish Ten
In 2009 Mount Rushmore was scanned by lasers to create a digital model of the four faces, as part of the project funded by the Scottish Ten to create accurate models of ten heritage sites throughout the world. You can see the laser image at this site.

Here is one description of Borglum:

Borglum was stubborn, insistent, temperamental, perfectionist, high-reaching, and proud -- but these were also the characteristics that were required to carve a mountain. Big, brash, almost larger than life, only a man like Gutzon Borglum could have conceived of and created the monument on Mount Rushmore.

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