By Chuck Woodbury
I could be so very bad with this photo, and write a fake article about how the National Park Service, because of budget cuts, was neglecting Mount Rushmore, and this was the result. It would be so easy to write a story like that. It would get shared all over social media and create lots of discussion and I would make lots of money from the millions of views it would gather.
But I wouldn’t do that, even though the same sort of thing is being done every day and passed off as news. The fact is, this is not Mount Rushmore, but a replica, built in 1995 at a cost of $27 million, 70 miles from Tokyo at an amusement park called Western Village. It was an exact replica of the real Mount Rushmore. Alas, the park went out of business 13 years ago and the “mountain” has been neglected ever since.
I was writing for the New York Times Syndicate at the time and was invited to the unveiling of the replica. I attended with a delegation of people from South Dakota, including the lieutenant governor, a couple of state senators and three Miss Dakotas. I lusted over the latter, but was too old, even then, to even attempt a move. But dream I did.
I remember my first sight of the park. A bullet train shot by, “Mount Rushmore” not far in the distance. I had visited the real Mount Rushmore in South Dakota a month before and was amazed at how real the replica looked.
THIS IS THE PROUD MAN who created the monument. He owned the park. I have forgotten his name. He had marveled at the real Mt. Rushmore on a visit to the United States and felt compelled to build a replica at his Wild West-themed park. Inside, there were several floors of displays — food courts, exhibits about South Dakota and other displays I no longer remember. The park itself was a cheap imitation of Frontier Town in Disneyland. The mannequin cowboys and cowgirls inside the fake Wild West saloons, brothels and hotels spoke and moved stiffly. John Wayne, Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood and Marilyn Monroe spoke English with Japanese accents.
The press unveiling was huge. I have never seen more television cameras in one place. There was a huge buffet, the food blessed by a Shinto priest. I remember one sign advertised “Imported Beer,” which turned out to be Coors and Budweiser.
I recently came upon a website that documents abandoned places, and found a section devoted to Western Village. It was eerie seeing it now as a true ghost town, and the four U.S. presidents stained and covered with moss.
I wonder what happened to the nice man who owned the park, who drove me around for several days along with a delightful Russian girl who was my personal interpreter. He probably went bankrupt. That’s sad.