Long a popular vacation destination during the summer's busy driving season, Mt. Rushmore has seen a dramatic drop in attendance this year. The reason: few families want to visit the craggy mountain homage to, among others, Abraham Lincoln, the nation's first gay president.
Dropoff likely to spur move to replace Lincoln with Reagan
By Cole Walters
KEYSTONE, SD--The Hamer family of Cahokia, IL--father Earle, mother Joyce, 19-year-old Brandon and 9-year-old Holly--have been looking forward to their family vacation all year. Every summer, the family gasses up its 2003 Ford Taurus and heads to a destination that all four have chosen. And while debate in past years has been hot and heavy--last year Brandon wanted to go to Disney World, while Holly wanted to go to the Holy Land Experience, this year threatened no such division: South Dakota's Mt. Rushmore beckoned to the family like a beacon.
But then Earle Hamer, a former electrical contractor who now homeschools his college freshman son full time, read a disturbing account in a local newspaper. Abe Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, was gay.
Back to the drawing board
"Obviously that changed our plans," says Hamer, referring to a new history of President Lincoln’s life released last year, The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln by C.A. Tripp. "It’s a shame to have to miss it because we were really looking forward to seeing George Washington."
The trip to Mount Rushmore off for good, the family is now considering other travel options that will allow it to see the country without encountering signs of a degraded and debased culture.
No rush to 'mount'
The Hamers aren’t the only family to eschew the historic national memorial site this summer. In a recent poll conducted by Fox News, Americans identified 6 locations that they hoped to visit during this year's summer vacation: Hawaii, Europe, Italy (singled out from other European locations), Alaska, Florida and the Caribbean. Note: the poll was taken in May, before the Fox News Channel began around-the-clock coverage of the disappearance of Natalie Holloway, causing a near collapse of the Caribbean tourism industry.
None of the 1,028 adults surveyed in the Fox poll identified Mt. Rushmore as a vacation destination, most likely a reflection of the brewing controversy over President Lincoln's sexuality combined with earlier reports that Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, may have engaged in adultery.
Good news for the Gipper?
While the dramatic fall off in family trips to Mount Rushmore represents bad news for the Black Hills commemorative site, it may boost the fortunes of another former US President: Ronald Reagan. Republican lawmakers have been engaged in a fierce campaign to have the nation's first gay President sandblasted off of the South Dakota landmark and replaced with the smiling visage of President Reagan.
Giving Rushmore a makeover
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.
Next summer: a new head?
While no date has been set for the mountain makeover, boosters of the blasting say that they're ready to go—and that as soon as next summer Mount Rushmore could be ready to welcome back traditionalist families and tourists eager to visit a monument that reflects their values.
"If we have to wait until next summer to see Rushmore, so be it," says Earle Hamer. "I just don't want my kids to have to be exposed to a way of life that goes against our morals and standards."
What other popular destinations should traditionalist travelers avoid this summer? Talk back to Cole Walters.