In 1927 Al Jolson appeared in The Jazz Singer, Louis Armstrong recorded “Potato Head Blues,” and Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig combined for 107 home runs. The Great War was over for almost a decade and life was seemingly returning to normal. That August President Calvin Coolidge traveled to South Dakota to speak at the groundbreaking of Mount Rushmore. As if channeling his inner Roosevelt, the staid Coolidge rode up the mountain on horseback. Curiously–perhaps in a nod to recent Franco-American relations?–a choir sang “The Marseillaise” in addition to “The Star Spangled Banner” and other patriotic tunes.
Rushmore literally put Theodore Roosevelt on the same level with Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson, and the monument was a big win for Roosevelt supporters. The RMA had lost a protracted battle for a Roosevelt memorial on the National Mall just a year earlier. The spot Hermann Hagedorn and others coveted eventually went to the Jefferson Memorial.
Ironically, Mount Rushmore has skewed our perceptions of the 26th president. When many people think “Theodore Roosevelt” they think of the West. Being depicted on a granite slab in the Black Hills will do that. Still it is important to keep in mind that, while Roosevelt spent chunks of time hunting and ranching out West, he was a city slicker first and foremost. Indeed he was the only president born in Manhattan, and it was to New York City and Long Island that he returned over and over across the course of his life.
(image/National Park Service)