If a coalition of conservative groups gets its way, the craggy visage of the country's first gay president, Abraham Lincoln, will soon be chiseled out of Mount Rushmore. Activists say that with selective blasting techniques and a bit of re-sculpting, Old Abe can be transformed into an icon conservatives are more comfortable with: Ronald Reagan.
Face lift to be first Rushmore renovations since 1939
By Deanna Swift
KEYSTONE, SD—Behind closed doors, a coalition of conservative and pro-family organizations has been waging a pressure campaign to remove America's first gay president from the national memorial site known as Mount Rushmore. If the groups get their way, the craggy visage of Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth president of the United States, will be blasted off of the Black Hills commemorative site and replaced with an icon that conservatives say better represents their values: Ronald Reagan.
The facial reconstruction would be the first significant modification to Mount Rushmore since the sculpture of Theodore Roosevelt was dedicated in 1939, the same year that modern plumbing and night lighting were introduced at the monument. That dedication took place 12 years after sculptor Gutzon Borglum began carving the huge granite likeness of George Washington. Borglum began his difficult work by carving the first president's head in an egg shape; only later were Washington's trademark hair and brow added.
Room for one more?
Just days after Ronald Reagan passed away last summer, republican lawmakers proposed legislation that would add his face to the national monument. But their laudable efforts have been stymied by one intractable problem: Rushmore's limited space. There simply isn't enough room to add the image of another president to the national monument, no matter how widely admired he is.
Proponents of the plan to replace Lincoln with Reagan say that the structural renovation of the famous sculpture will prove far less costly—and time consuming—than adding an entirely new face into the Black Hills monument. They also point out that because Lincoln currently occupies a relatively isolated spot on the hillside, the craniofacial reconstruction process will not endanger any of the existing presidential busts. The Park Service, which maintains the monument, has long opposed the addition of new presidents onto Rushmore, arguing that the rock that surrounds the sculpted faces is not suitable for further carving.
Off the mountain—and into the closet
While congressional opponents dismissed last summer's legislative effort to add Reagan to Rushmore as a "non-starter," the campaign got a significant boost late last year with the publication of a book documenting that "The Great Emancipator" was in fact gay. The book, entitled "The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln," by the late C.A. Tripp, who was an associate professor of psychiatry at the State University of New York, draws on evidence ranging from a poem the 16th president penned about gay marriage to a post-assassination interview with his stepmother, to confirm that Lincoln was likely the original log cabin republican.
President Lincoln has long been a controversial figure among southern republicans. A proposal to erect a statue of Lincoln in Richmond, VA launched a petition drive that ultimately gathered thousands of signatures. Signers rejected the proposed statue on the grounds that "[a] statue to this politician is no more appropriate in Richmond than one celebrating Sherman who burned Atlanta to the ground or one glorifying the evil Third Reich to Hitler in Tel Aviv."
But while northern and southern republicans may disagree on Lincoln's historical legacy, they're united in a larger cause: the desire to return to a more traditional time when presidents weren't gay. "If we have a choice between the image of a president who stood for traditional marriage and one who engaged in non-traditional acts outside of his marriage, I'd say we would support the first choice," explains Sandy Slokum, executive director of the Washington, DC advocacy group Defend Our Marriages.
Construction likely to begin soon
The National Park Service hasn't indicated just when it's likely to give the go ahead for the mountain makeover to begin. But if recent history is any indication, it shouldn't be too long before fans of the "Gipper" have something to smile about. In recent months, the Park Service has introduced a creationist account of the origins of the Grand Canyon into the destination's book store, after a Christian employee joined forces with traditionalist groups to demand that the park stop privileging science over other accounts of history.
Park Service officials also agreed to modify a video shown to tourists at the Lincoln Memorial, after conservative Christians complained that it gave too much screen time to women, blacks and gays.
Deanna Swift can be reached at email@example.com