Everyone knows Mount Rushmore is a monument to America's greatest presidents. But is it also a monument to racism?
That's the question unfolding on TV screens Wednesday as the History Channel takes a look at the hidden secrets behind the Black Hills' most famous tourist attraction.
Exploring the past of Mount Rushmore and sculptor Gutzon Borglum are the investigators of the History Channel show "Brad Meltzer's Decoded," which explores possible conspiracies behind well-known subjects.
"The show comes back next week and looks at the rumor that Mount Rushmore is actually a symbol of white supremacy," said Meltzer, a novelist and nonfiction author who hosts the show. "When I hear something like that, I roll my eyes and say, ‘Where are the people with the tin foil hats?'"
But as Meltzer investigated the rumors, he found at least some people - including leaders of the Ku Klux Klan - who gave some credence to the conspiracy theories.
"It just becomes this amazing story. It doesn't mean it's a true story, but it's amazing what the myth is," Meltzer said. "Forget if it's even true or not, how does it get started? We look at it: was he a member (of the KKK)? What did he hide in there?"
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Meltzer wouldn't disclose what his investigation actually uncovers about Mount Rushmore and Borglum, but said he and his team of investigators will "absolutely prove" some parts of the mystery, such as whether Borglum was part of the KKK and what is hidden inside Mount Rushmore.
The episode was filmed around two months ago, and included interviews with the National Park Service and KKK leaders.
The Park Service was very helpful, Meltzer said - but also highly reticent to discuss the secrets of Mount Rushmore on camera.
"This is a time where people don't like camera crews showing up at your national parks asking questions about where secret things are," he said.
Interviewing Klan leaders posed a different kind of challenge. For that interview, Meltzer said the format of his show - where a journalist, an engineer and a prosecutor explore mysteries - paid dividends.
"When people want to know why we have a prosecutor on the team, and you watch him with the KKK, that's why," Meltzer said. "That's one of the best parts of the episode, when you watch the KKK talk about this guy."
Despite exploring whether there's a dark side to a beloved national monument, Meltzer said he absolutely believes Mount Rushmore "is one of the great symbols of America."
"I really think people in the Dakotas are going to see things that they know, and see things that they don't know, and they're going to see the respect we bring to the region," Meltzer said.
Contact David Montgomery at 394-8329 or firstname.lastname@example.org