By Cheri Sicard
Mt. Rushmore stands as one of the most iconic symbols of the United States. Everyone, regardless of whether or not they have visited this world-renowned South Dakota landmark, recognizes the familiar site of the giant heads of four United States presidents carved into the side of a towering mountain.
But very few know about the secret hidden tunnel that runs underneath and behind the monument.
Coincidentally, RVtravel.com Publisher Chuck Woodbury sent me the video below to check out while I was in South Dakota and about to visit Mt. Rushmore. He told me to be sure to keep my eyes and ears open for any mention of the hidden tunnel behind the faces.
I did, but saw or heard zero mention of it. I even asked one of the National Park rangers about it, but she had never heard of it.
But I only visited the national monument, not the privately owned Rushmore-Borglum Story exhibit and museum in nearby Keystone, SD, just outside the park. Perhaps they would have known more, as they are shown in the video below.
In it, you will see fascinating footage of the creation of Mt. Rushmore and the lengths that sculptor Gutzon Borglum had to go through to create his epic masterpiece.
The secret tunnels at Mt. Rushmore
But Borglum had even bigger plans for Mount Rushmore than what we see today. The secret tunnel behind Lincoln’s head, extending 70 feet deep into the rock, is the only real evidence we have of the artist’s grand vision.
A 1,200-pound granite capstone seals a chamber at the tunnel’s mouth. Inside is a titanium vault containing a long teak casket holding 16 thin enameled panels.
Why are these things there? An architectural historian did a lot of research to find out.
Funding of the project was an ongoing problem for Borglum with construction being financed through both public and private donors.
Of course, the project was constantly going over budget, largely due to Borglum’s changing plans midstream on multiple occasions and also because his vision for Mt. Rushmore expanded over time.
Old blueprints reveal plans for an ambitious complex that would surround the monument and include a grand staircase that would have allowed visitors to climb up behind the heads. Borglum also envisioned a repository hidden deep within the mountain to store the country’s most sacred documents and a grand hall measuring 80 x 100 feet drilled behind the faces.
Borglum convinced Congress to give him $50,000 for the construction of his “Hall of Records,” and blasting started in 1931 to build it.
However, World War II put a stop to the grand plan. Congress needed the money for the war effort, so Borglum was told to scrap the plans for the giant staircase, grand hall, and hidden repository.
Soon after, the sculptures of the four presidential heads were completed and that was the end of the building of Borglum’s vision. The hidden tunnel that began that construction is all that remains.
What about that titanium vault?
It’s a time capsule placed there in 1998 by Gutzon Borglum’s daughter. It contains a history of the United State and biographies of Gutzon Borglum and the four Presidents depicted on Mt. Rushmore: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.
The TV series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century had an episode where he went to a chamber behind the Mt. Of course back then did not have internet to research but a couple years when I saw the episode again I was able to research the ‘tunnel’.
I spent two summer working at the private museum in Keystone it has great information and you should go there before going to the mountain. There is so many interesting facts about the carving of the mountain there to know but none are secret just because people have not taken time to read about a place doesn’t meant there are secrets. It means people are not interested enough to read about it. There is a lot of information about the rooms behind the carving that are not Accessible to the general public not because they are secret but because there is no safeway for the general public to visit it it does not mean they’re secret just because a person does not know about something does not means it’s a secret I just mean they are not interested enough to read about it.