General History of Stone Mountain

A dream that has existed in the hearts and minds of Georgians for half a century is now nearing reality. When the dream is fulfilled Georgia will have completed the world's largest work of sculpture on the face of Stone Mountain, the world's largest granite monolith, as a memorial to the Confederacy.

It all began with an idea nurtured by the United Daughters of the Confederacy 50 years ago. The idea was to carve, on the sheer north side of Stone Mountain, a great work of sculpture which would serve as a lasting and fitting memorial to the Confederacy. Fantastic as the idea may have seemed at the time ... as fantastic as the big granite mountain itself ... it met with great public acclaim and thus began an effort which, through failure and frustration, has endured.

In 1915, Gutzon Borglum, under the auspices of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, visited the mountain to plan a carving of colossal proportions showing an entire army on horseback and on foot carved in the round and following the contour of the mountain. It would taken years to complete such a work.

Because of World War I, Borglum was not able to begin work until June 1923. In January 1924, enough of the carving of General Lee was completed for Borglum, at an unveiling ceremony, to serve breakfast to a group of guests on Lee's massive shoulder. Shortly thereafter, there were mayor disagreements between Borglum and his sponsors and work was stopped.

Augustus Lukeman was then chosen to complete a memorial sculpture. He advised the sponsoring body known as the Stone Mountain Monumental Association that Borglum's carving could never be completed and recommended a much smaller design incorporating the figures of Jefferson Davis and Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, all on horseback.

Most of Borglum's unfinished work was blasted off the mountain to make way for the new carving. Lukeman's work progressed slowly and the first unveiling of the new design was not presented until April 1928. By mid-Summer, 1929, funds ran out, the clatter of drills stopped ... the machinery was carried away, and sounds of metal and men against stone died. The great, gray mountain was silent . . .once again!

The ill-fated project remained an incomplete curiosity until 1958 when the State of Georgia decided to take positive steps toward completion of the memorial carving. The State Legislature created the Stone Mountain Memorial Association and empowered it to sell revenue bonds for the purpose of purchasing and developing the mountain and 3,000 acres of surrounding land as a memorial to the Confederacy.

Walter Hancock of Glouchester, Mass., one of the nation's foremost sculptors, was retained as a consultant for the completion of the work Lukeman had started. Fortunately, the Lukeman models were still intact and available.

Work on the huge carving is progressing rapidly. Modern industrial jet torches, which are actually miniature jet engines, are being used to cut into the hard granite. The flame which does the work escapes from the carving torch at a muzzle velocity of about 2,800 feet per second and a temperature of some 3,500 degrees fahrenheit. The torches burn a mixture of kerosene and oxygen and sound like jet engines when in operation.

The workmen completing the carving are a dedicated group of men. They work 33 stories above the base of the mountain with full knowledge that they are creating a memorial, which for generations will rank as one of the greatest pieces of sculptural art ever attempted by man.

How does the Stone Mountain carving compare with other great works of sculpture? First and foremost, it is the largest single work of sculptural art in the world. The overall carved-out area on the face of the mountain measures 190 feet by 305 feet or a total of 57,950 square feet. An acre of land contains only 43,560 square feet.

The figure of General Robert E. Lee, the central figure in the huge carving, is 90 feet high and 27 feet wide. His head is 12 feet 6 inches by 15 feet 6 inches and his left arm measures 38 feet. Lee's sword measures 50 feet long and the carving of his famous horse, Traveler, will measure 141 feet from nose to tail.

Never in the history of mankind has such a work of sculptural art been completed. Famous Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota can't be compared with the Stone Mountain carving for several reasons. The Borglum carvings on Rushmore are four separate carvings, completed and unveiled at different times. Each of the carvings at Rushmore measures only about 65 feet in height.

The four famous statues of Ramesses II which were carved by the Egyptians more than 3,000 years ago to guard the temple of Abu Simbel are only 65 feet high. They were carved from the ground up and not on the sheer face of a mountain of granite.

Possibly the only work of sculptural art which would begin to compare with the Stone Mountain project is a huge figure of Buddha carved by the Chinese in 700 A.D. Cut into the face of a cliff overlooking the Min River near Kiating, China, it stands 196 feet high which is six feet higher than the Stone Mountain work. In regard to total area, which includes width as well as height, it, too, falls short when compared with the Stone Mountain Memorial.

The Stone Mountain carving is unique in our time. And it is a fitting memorial to those who served and those who died in behalf of a cause that moulded and shaped the destiny of America.

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