Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - October 06, 2017
Man-made wonders inspire awe - and differing views
When husband Art, daughter Mariya and I left our motel in Rapid City, South Dakota, Art told us that when he was a kid in Wisconsin, every car that had gone west seemed to return with a bumper sticker from Wall Drug Store.
We had barely left town when the signs along I-90 began:
Wall Drug or Bust.
Free coffee and donuts for veterans. Wall Drug
Homemade Ice Cream. Wall Drug.
Cowboy Hats. Wall Drug.
Travelers Chapel. Wall Drug.
Coffee 5 cents. Wall Drug
Café seats 530. Wall Drug.
Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse were also on the agenda that day, but we HAD to stop in Wall.
The line at the almost city-block-sized store made me worry we’d spend too much time waiting to eat. Wall has a population less than 1,000, and 500 seemed to be at the café. But within a few minutes, Art was working on his hot roast beef sandwich and mashed potatoes, while Mariya and I shared a bacon burger with onion rings. Delicious!
I read the store’s history excerpted from a 1982 “Guideposts” magazine interview with Ted Hustead. Ted and wife Dorothy bought the store in 1931 just as the Great Depression began. The store floundered until 1936, when Dorothy decided to put signs along the highway for free ice water. They painted boards, modeling them after the Burma Shave advertising campaign. Soon, Ted and Dorothy had hundreds coming for free ice water - and buying ice cream, coffee and other items.
Today, Wall Drug gives away about 5,000 glasses of ice water every day during the summer. Added to the café and drugstore are various shops, a chapel, and a “Back Yard Mall” featuring a giant “jackalope”, a stagecoach, and other items. It is now a “must-see” roadside attraction.
But for us, it was time for Mount Rushmore!
Once parked, we walked down the Avenue of Flags toward the terrace to get an unobstructed view of the 60-foot sculpted "heads" of presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Between Oct. 4, 1927 and March 1941, sculptor Gutzon Borglum and 400 workers carved the images. Borglum died in March 1941, but his son Lincoln continued the project, completing it on Oct. 31 of that same year.
After we took dozens of photos, we traveled 17 miles to the enormous carving of Lakota leader Crazy Horse.
The 87.5-foot tall head is the only completed part so far. When finished, it will be 563 feet high and 641 feet long. It will depict Crazy Horse on horseback and pointing to the Black Hills, as if he is saying, “My lands are where my dead lie buried.”
In 1939, after seeing Mount Rushmore, Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear asked sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski to create a memorial to show that “... the red man has great heroes, also.”
Little is known about Tasunka Witco, or Crazy Horse. He was born about 1840 somewhere in the Black Hills. He was at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876. He died at Fort Robinson in 1877, killed by an Army private in unclear circumstances.
Ziolkoski’s first blast was on June 3, 1948. His wife Ruth and their children worked on it as well. He died in 1982, and Ruth died in 2014. Today, some of the Ziolkowsi’s 10 children and others carry on, funded by admission fees and private donations.
Art visited the site in the mid-1970s. He said then there were few visitors, no paved road or parking lot, and only a few lean-to-type structures that had rock displays. He recalled talking with Ruth.
“At that time, everyone was going to Mount Rushmore. You were adventurous if you went to see Crazy Horse,” he said. “You could sort of envision the top of the head and forehead. That was all.”
Today, the facial features are clear and the site includes a welcome center, a museum, a cultural center, a restaurant, gift shops, and the sculptor’s log studio home.
Each year, millions of tourists visit the two enormous sculptures, but both are involved in some controversy.
I read in an October 2016 “Smithsonian” magazine article that Borglum was worried about a “mongrel horde” over-running the West’s “Nordic” purity. In 1915, the United Daughters of the Confederacy approached him to carve a bust of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on Georgia’s Stone Mountain. He agreed, and his idea evolved to include Jefferson Davis and “Stonewall” Jackson. A Ku Klux Klan altar was added to acknowledge the group’s financial support. Borglum made the first cut June 23, 1923. But he became frustrated with Klan infighting and he left to begin work on Mount Rushmore. The Stone Mountain design was scrapped and the project completed by others.
Some Lakota Sioux believe Standing Bear had no right to ask Ziolkowski to create the mountain carving. They claim Lakota culture dictates consensus from family members on such matters and no one asked Crazy Horse’s descendants about a project on sacred Lakota land and burial grounds.
Other Native Americans believe the Crazy Horse Memorial helps balance hundreds of years of racism against their people. The Indian Museum of North America at the memorial site contains more than 11,000 historic and contemporary objects and artworks from different tribal groups. The Native American Educational and Cultural Center there has a collection of historic prints and regional artifacts. And the Indian University of North America, in cooperation with the University of South Dakota, offers courses in Native American studies.
So in Mount Rushmore, some see a national treasure, while others think of its racist sculptor. Some see Crazy Horse as a monument to Native Americans, but others see it as a sign of disregard for First Nation culture. Wall Drug Store might be a symbol of resourcefulness and ingenuity or an example of entrepreneurial kitschiness. I see them as part of our nation’s not-so-simple history - and I enjoyed every one.
Top-left: I-90 roadsign for Wall Drug Store; top-middle: western face of Wall Drug store; top-right: Gloria and Mariya in front of the "Great Faces," as South Dakota tourism refers to the four presidents on Mount Rushmore; bottom-left: The "Great Faces; bottom-right: profile view of the sculpted head of Crazy Horse.