“Hall of Records entrance,” 1939, photo courtesy of the US National Park Service, Mount Rushmore National Memorial
“Into this room the records of what our people aspired to and what they have accomplished should be collected and preserved, and on the walls of this room should be cut the literal records of the conception of our republic, its successful creation, the record of its westward movement to the Pacific, its presidents, how the memorial was built and, frankly. Why.” Gutzon Borglum.
In the original design of Mount Rushmore, Borglum wanted to include a carved inscription alongside the presidents. The inscription was to include the nine most significant events in American History and was to be carved on an 80 by 100 foot area in the shape of the Louisiana Purchase. Many ideas were presented as to what the nine events should be, however, the inscription would never be carved. The text of the inscription could not be carved large enough for people to read from a great distance and problems within the granite forced changes in the design, relocating Jefferson and Lincoln to their current locations. Lincoln is now located on the rock Borglum had intended for the inscription. To replace the inscription, Borglum conceived another idea: The Hall of Records.
In the canyon, located behind the carved faces, he decided to create a grand entrance way with doors 20 feet high by 12 feet wide. Above these doors and inscribed on a bronze eagle words would proclaim, “America’s Onwards March” and “The Hall of Records.” The chamber measured 80 by 100 feet and according to Borglum, this was the perfect place to store historical documents such as the Constitution of the United States and the Declaration of Independence. He also thought the hall should include busts of Americans who had made great accomplishments and lists of contributions that Americans made in the sciences, arts, and in industry. Borglum’s plan also called for a grand staircase of 800 granite steps beginning by his studio and gradually climbing up into the canyon behind Lincoln’s face leading to the Hall’s entrance.
In 1938, Borglum and his crew began to carve the entrance. The work was very difficult. The granite was a lot harder than working on the faces and the drill bits dulled more quickly. The granite dust was so thick workers choked on it. Within a year, however, the entrance was almost completed and the work had progressed into the mountain about 70 feet. At this time, Borglum was urged to finish the work on the faces and eventually he conceded. War began in Europe, the threat of America joining was looming and funds were running short. Borglum hoped that after the war he could finish the Hall of Records and as time progressed, his plan for the Hall became more elaborate. He wanted words of important documents carved on the sides of the walls in different languages and multiple rooms.
In 1941, circumstances were against Borglum. In March of 1941 he passed away unexpectedly after minor surgery in Chicago. His son Lincoln took over the carving. There were only enough funds remaining to continue work through the summer. The project was shut-down on October 31, 1941. The faces were deemed finished, but Lincoln hoped by war’s end funds would be made available to finish the Hall. The Borglum family, wanting to finish their father's dream, tried over the years to revive an interest in this portion of the carving.
Finally in 1998, the National Park System along with the Borglum family put the finishing touches on the Hall of Records. The room was not carved, but a titanium vault, housing a teakwood box was installed in the granite floor in the entrance way. The box contains sixteen porcelain enamel panels. On these panels are written the words of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, a history of how and why Mount Rushmore was carved, a history of the four presidents with quotes from each, a biography on Gutzon Borglum, and the history of the United States. The capsule is sealed with a granite capstone. The inscription on the capstone comes from Gutzon Borglum’s speech at the 1930 dedication of the Washington figure.
“…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. Then breather a prayer that these records will endure until wind and rain alone shall wear them away.”