Borglum highway re-dedication restores memorial sign lost for decades

2013-06-02T07:00:00Z Borglum highway re-dedication restores memorial sign lost for decadesJennifer Naylor Gesick Journal staff Rapid City Journal

Jim Borglum was a little choked up Saturday as he stood in front of Mount Rushmore, an achievement his grandfather and father dedicated their lives to.

The grandson of Mount Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum stood in the same spot he had 40 years earlier with his father, Lincoln Borglum, the first time the Gutzon Borglum Memorial Highway was dedicated. He was 21 years old at the time. 

The Department of Transportation had designated a 10-mile segment of Highway 244 as the Gutzon Borglum Memorial Highway on June 1, 1973. The stretch lies between the U.S. 16A junction near Keystone and the intersection with U.S. 385 south of Hill City. But after a road construction project called for the sign dedicating the road to be removed, it was misplaced and missing for decades.

On Saturday the road was re-dedicated and the sign restored.

Borglum said his father had a great sense of humor and would have found it all quite funny. 

"I just wish my father could have been here," Borglum said. "He would have laughed."

He said Lincoln also loved to tell stories and that is how Borglum really got to know his grandfather, Gutzon, who died a few years before he was born.

Borglum now lives in the same house in Hermosa that his father occupied while working on Mount Rushmore. He said he likes to spend his free time in artistic pursuits much like the men who came before him. But instead of sculpture, his passion lies with painting and drawing. He said his upbringing contributed to his inclination for artistic expression.

“I grew up and art was all around me,” Borglum said. “We talked about it all the time.”

Borglum was joined Saturday by the only living Mount Rushmore worker, 91-year-old Nick Clifford. Clifford spoke at the re-dedication ceremony that drew a few dozen people to the turnout where thousands of tourists stop every year to get their first look at the faces on the mountain.

It was Clifford's wife Carolyn's efforts to find the original Gutzon Borglum Memorial Highway sign and have it returned to its original spot that led to the event Saturday

Clifford recalled his time working on the mountain and how much he admired Lincoln Borglum.

"I was just so thankful that he gave me a job. "I think he felt sorry for me," he joked.

Clifford began working on Mount Rushmore when he was 17 years old. He spent three years from 1938-40 working both in the sculptor's studio and on the mountain as a driller.

"Everybody wanted to be a driller," Clifford said. "It was terrible dusty and hard work, but you could make 15 to 20 cents more depending on how good you were. And that was a lot of money back then."

Clifford now spends most days during the summer in the gift shop at Mount Rushmore signing copies of his book, a compilation of all the questions he has been asked over the years about working on the mountain. 

He said people most often ask him if it was scary up there when workers hung from harnesses and cables. But the strangest question people ask is how the men would get to the bathroom while working.

"Well," Clifford paused. "No one could see us up there so we just ducked behind a tree," he said with a chuckle.

"I'm not sure you want to say that to the paper," Carolyn said with a giggle.




Contact Jennifer Naylor Gesick at 394-8415 or

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