Mount Rushmore worker looks back on project, 75 years later

Mount Rushmore

KEYSTONE, South Dakota -- At Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, Nick Clifford is almost as popular as those four presidents looming up above.

“You’re just a blessing and I want to shake your hand,” a visitor told him.

That’s because Clifford is the last survivor of the 400 men who carved the monument more than 70 years ago. Now, at 95, he’s a rock star.

“I worked on Roosevelt and Lincoln,” he said. “Down under [Roosevelt’s] chin and over on the right hand side of Lincoln. I can see it very plainly yet where I worked.”

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Nick Clifford CBS News

Mount Rushmore was the brain-child of sculptor and Idaho native Gutzon Borglum. It took 14 years to complete.

George Washington represents the nation’s founding. Thomas Jefferson, its expansion; Abraham Lincoln, its preservation and Teddy Roosevelt, its development.

“That is America up there,” Clifford said.

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  Jim Borglum CBS News

The onset of World War II forced construction to end prematurely. For Jim Borglum, grandson of the monument’s creator, it’s still bittersweet.

For as grand and monumental as Mount Rushmore is, Gutzon wanted it to be more so.

“He had bigger plans,” Jim said.

The plan was to carve all the way down to the presidents’ waists, and to build a museum inside the mountain to explain what the monument means.

He wanted people to know exactly what it was there for.

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Plans for a museum at Mount Rushmore CBS News

“What it was there for and also that they not be misrepresented as gods or something. These were men just like anybody else,” Jim said.

But for Clifford, Mount Rushmore is perfect, just as it is.

“I think it’s the most beautiful place in the whole world. Never will be another thing like it. I’m so proud to have worked up there,” he said.

A proud symbol of America, etched in stone, for countless generations to come.

  • Chip-Reid_bio_140x100_bw.jpg
    Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.