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Jewish World Review Feb. 23, 2001 /30 Shevat, 5761

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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Consumer Reports

Well, he did sing: 'This time you gave me a mountain ...' -- THEY'RE talking about adding on to Mt. Rushmore again.

This time the face being discussed is that of Ronald Reagan.

The faces on Mt. Rushmore, in the Black Hills of South Dakota, are the same as they have always been: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

The four faces have been there since 1941, just as sculptor Gutzon Borglum left them. The carving of the faces began in 1927; Borglum and a crew of 400 workers dynamited and jackhammered the likenesses of the four presidents out of the granite.

From time to time there have been proposals to add a president or two to the mountain. None of these proposals has ever been accepted by the U.S. Congress, which has the final say on what is done to Mt. Rushmore. On the occasion of former President Reagan's recent 90th birthday, there was a renewed wave of affection for Reagan, and a renewed call to put him up there with Washington, Jefferson, T.R. and Lincoln.

It's unlikely to happen, for two reasons.

First, the politics of it. In our new national atmosphere of loud and strident from-the-left-and-from-the-right cable television shoutfests, it is doubtful that the Republicans and Democrats could ever agree on a new presidential face on Rushmore. Each side would block the other, and filibuster to the end of time.

Then there's the mechanics and physics of it. There's no room, experts have said, and even if there were, the granite is not steady enough to take all the blasting that a new face would require.

But you have to figure that, with all the technological advances in the world since 1941, if the nation really longed for a new face on Rushmore, the engineers would figure out a way to get it done.

So . . . what to do?

We could all just shrug and agree that it will forever stay the way it is this morning: Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, Lincoln.

But Mt. Rushmore could use some oomph. There are far more entertainment options available to Americans than there were 60 years ago. Loading the family into the car and driving to the Black Hills of South Dakota is not necessarily first on many people's list of priorities. Flying to Rapid City just so you can then go look at the mountain. . . .

Well, it's a pleasant view. But it's not the easiest sell in the world.

There is, however, an answer.

"We're not here just to add presidents," James G. Popovich, acting superintendent of the Mt. Rushmore National Memorial, said recently.

That's fine. No more presidents.

But if Mt. Rushmore wants to guarantee its success as a tourist attraction for centuries to come -- if it wants to see its attendance rocket beyond its caretakers' wildest dreams -- there is another American historical figure who might be added to the mountain.

Elvis Presley.

Don't laugh. Elvis has become an honored part of his country's saga in recent years. The tale of his life -- from humble beginnings to the greatest fame imaginable -- has reached almost storybook proportions. The unpleasantness toward the end of his brief 42 years has been forgiven many times over; the U.S. Postal Service has honored him with a stamp, which is just as mainstream a seal of approval as Mt. Rushmore. The face of Elvis is every bit as famous as the faces of Washington and Lincoln; the face of Elvis, 24 years after his death, is still the American face most instantly recognizable around the globe.

Put him up there -- show the world who we are. They'd have to build new expressways to Mt. Rushmore to handle the crowds; they'd have to build gift shops as big as Wal-Marts to accept the money from the eager souvenir-buyers.

Mt. Rushmore is not a cathedral; it's a big old mountain. Elvis wouldn't hurt it; he would only help.

Unlike Washington, Jefferson, T.R. and Lincoln, Elvis had a voice that people recognize. Not that the officials who run Mt. Rushmore should do anything as crass as playing his records over loudspeakers as the tourists gaze at the mountain.

But, as the visitors left, they could be bid farewell by a tape of his voice saying the words he spoke at the conclusion of every concert:

"Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen, you've been a fantastic audience."

And just think how much fun the sculptors would have, carving that sneer.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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