There’s a place behind Mount Rushmore that few really know exists. It’s a room called the Hall of Records, and it was the idea of the monument’s sculptor, Gutzon Borglum.
Borglum didn’t want to stop by carving the four presidents that are Mount Rushmore. He envisioned a large, carved inscription beside the presidents that would list the nine most important events from 1776 to 1906 inside an outline of the shape of the Louisiana Purchase. But that plan didn’t work out because the text would have been too small to be read from a distance, and the section of the mountain where he wanted to do it was needed for the Lincoln head carving.
So he came up with an alternate idea that consisted of a large room carved into the mountain that would store America’s most important documents. The vault was designed to be 80 by 100 feet with an 800-foot granite stairway to get to the room. The entrance to the room was placed in a small canyon behind the presidents’ heads of Mount Rushmore.
The vault was intended to store the most important documents in the history of the United States, such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, a list of contributions the United States had made to the world, as well as busts of famous Americans. There was even going to be a huge bronze eagle over the door with the inscription “The Hall of Records” and “America’s Onward March.”
Construction on the room started in July 1938, and a tunnel 70 feet long was completed within a year. But Borglum only got as far as starting a chamber in the side of the mountain when Congress halted work in 1939 as the pressing issue of completing the presidents came first. Borglum died in 1941 before the work could be completed on the Hall of Records. All work stopped entirely on October 31, 1941, and would stay that way as the United States became involved in World War II.
In 1998, the plan to complete the Hall of Records began again with a revision to the original plan. Sixteen porcelain enamel panels were made with the text from the Constitution, Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, biographies of Borglum and the four presidents on Mount Rushmore, and why Mount Rushmore was carved. All these panels were put in a teakwood box. The box was placed in a titanium vault and put in the unfinished vault. The vault was then sealed with a 1,200-pound granite cap. Inscribed on the capstone is a quote by 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.”
The Hall of Records is closed to the public since its purpose is to explain the country’s existence to future civilizations and future archaeologists.
It should be said that portions of Borglum’s life are steeped in controversy, specifically his association with the Ku Klux Klan while working on the Robert E. Lee’s bust at Stone Mountain in Georgia before he worked on Mount Rushmore. But Mount Rushmore is still a wondrous feat, and it, along with the Hall of Records, will be markers for the nation’s history for future generations.
Sources: NPS, Black Hills Visitor, Smithsonian Magazine