In many films, Mount Rushmore is depicted as a front to some hidden room or secret vault. It is the site for an intergalactic police force in the show Ben 10, Buck Rogers meets the President inside the Mount Rushmore secret base, and in National Treasure: Book of Secrets Mount Rushmore sits atop a literal city of gold. But is there really a hidden room in Mount Rushmore? And what does it hide? The truth is, admittedly, not as exciting as a city of gold, but there is indeed something hidden there.
American sculptor Gutzon Borglum believed that Mt Rushmore needed something more than just faces. In his early plans for the monument, there would be a large archive behind the presidents containing the nation’s precious documents. The Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and lists of US contributions to the world would sit in glass and bronze cases in this “Hall of Records”. Alongside these objects would be a stone tablet describing the story of the monument, not for today’s visitors but for those thousands of years in the future who may wonder of its origins.
Plans for a Hall of Records actually went forward when construction began. Visitors to the archives would be greeted by a 20-foot tall doorway and an astonishing 38-foot bronze eagle, subtitled with the words “America’s Onward March” and “Hall of Records”. In 1938, they began tunneling into the mountain, but made it as far as 70 feet before (in 1939) Congress halted the work. They had determined that it was not worth the effort to produce a tunnel no one would visit. Borglum’s response to this was marked with frustration:
You may as well drop a letter into the world’s postal service without an address or signature, as to send that carved mountain into history without identification.
Though his plans for a full Hall of Records never came to fruition, some records were indeed placed there for the ages. Sixteen porcelain tablets were designed with a short history of the United States, an explanation for the choice of four presidents, and the story of the construction of the monument. These tablets were placed in a teakwood box, then enclosed in a titanium chest, before finally being lowered into a stone hole capped by a granite stone. The capstone has a quote from Borglum:
“…let us place there, carved high, as close to heaven as we can, the words of our leaders, their faces, to show posterity what manner of men they were. Then breathe a prayer that these records will endure until the wind and rain alone shall wear them away.”