The Time Mount Rushmore Had A Baseball Team

When you think about Mount Rushmore, you envision the towering visages of four presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. The granite memorial is so enormous that each head is about 60 feet height, with mouths that stretch 18 feet, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI).

The popular tourist site took more than 14 years to build, and cost almost $1 million, reported Smithsonian magazine. The brainchild of Doane Robinson, official South Dakota historian, the sculpture was conceived to entice travelers. "Tourists soon get fed up on scenery unless it has something of special interest connected with it to make it impressive," he said. Robinson wrote to sculptor Gutzon Borglum in the summer of 1924 about his idea. Borglum, who had studied art with Auguste Rodin, picked Mount Rushmore for the project, telling the Rapid City Journal that "no piece of granite comparable to it in the United States" existed.

The work of carving the faces into the Black Hills started on October 4, 1927, and proved arduous. Dynamite designed about 90% of the monument; the remainder took approximately 400 men and women. Besides the dizzying heights, they suffered through extreme weather. Just to punch in, workers needed to climb 700 steep stairs. Much of their assignment was spent in a bosun chair that enabled them to use their jackhammers or carving tools as they hung 500 feet along the mountainside (from DOI).

To distract the workers from the hardship, baseball became part of the job.

Six days of work, and on the seventh? Baseball

The son of Mount Rushmore's sculptor, Lincoln Borglum, enjoyed American's pastime and listened to it on his car radio. He took to parking his car close to the hoist house and left the radio on so the hoist operator could hear the baseball games, according to Mental Floss. Then the operator relayed the scores to the workers. The Borglums saw the sport as an opportunity to create camaraderie and started a Mount Rushmore team, called the Rushmore Drillers, to play other local groups. "We worked eight hours a day, six days a week," said Nick Clifford, a pitcher and driller. "I earned 50 cents an hour when I got started. We practiced ball after work and played on Sundays" (per Mental Floss).

The team proved talented: the 1939 lot, nicknamed the Keystone Boys, even played in the state championship all the way to the semifinals, placing third. Gutzon Borglum took pride in his bunch. Those with talent could sometimes get a job based on their pitching or hitting potential. Lincoln Borglum, a huge fan of the sport, took a special interest in recruiting workers who could play ball (from Visit Keystone).

Baseball lives on in ice cream

Clifford, believed to be the last of the Mount Rushmore team, died at age 98 in 2019, according to The New York Times. While a talented pitcher and right fielder, he had little experience in drilling and carving. "I feel like Mount Rushmore was the greatest thing with which I was ever involved," Clifford said in a 2016 interview quoted by The Times. "It tells a story that will never go away — the story of how America was made and the men who helped make it what it is today."

Mount Rushmore was completed on October 31, 1941, with about 450,000 tons of rock removed to complete the sculpture, according to Travel South Dakota. About 3 million people come see the memorial site annually. The team disbanded after the work ended. But the players are still remembered at the national memorial's ice cream parlor, named Memorial Team Ice Cream in their honor, said the Mount Rushmore National Memorial