IN any group, painted or carved to represent the military heroes of the Confederacy, two figures place themselves. Over the relative rank of the other soldiers who fought under the Stars and Bars there may be argument, but the veriest amateur knows that the center of the composition belongs to Robert E. Lee, and that close to the commander-in-chief, space must be reserved for Lee's great marshal, Stonewall Jackson.
In Borglum's conception of the memorial, Lee and Jackson ride side by side, Jackson with his head bared calling the attention of his chief to the movement of the infantry beyond and below. The two heads are thus brought close together, and upon completion of the head of Lee, the sculptor turned his attention to the head of Jackson. Here he encountered a difficulty not altogether unforeseen, but none the less exasperating. No mass of stone a thousandth of the size of Stone Mountain is ever found absolutely flawless. The surface of the mountain contains many small fissures, but these cracks are usually from ten to twenty inche deep and do not interfere with the carving which, except at one or two small points--for instance, the tip of the ear of Davis' horse, and the toe of Lee's boot--never comes within two feet of the original surface. Thus, when it developed that one of these cracks ran right across the place where the bridge of Stonewall Jackson's nose was to be, not much trouble was anticipated. It was thought that nothing more would be necessary than to cut the face a little deeper than had been intended. Orders were accordingly given to set Jackson's head back. But the crack persisted, and the head was set back again and again until its position had been moved four times. Then it was realized that this particular crack, instead of being twenty inches deep, ran back into the granite a good four feet.
Stone-cutters on the job who were accustomed to doing fine interior work protested against paying any more attention to the thing. They pointed out that the crack was so extremely fine that only an expert handler of stone could detect its existence, and he only by the closest inspection. Such a tiny flaw as that, they said, would be passed by any inspector anywhere, on the finest interior work where a mirrorlike surface is demanded. Why, then, worry about it on a colossal head high up on a mountainside?
But Borglum had an eye to the future. The stonecutters were right, in so far as appearances went. No human being would ever guess the existence of that flaw, from simply looking at the head. But forty or fifty years hence---possibly within a much shorter time, but certainly within half a century--a film of water would have found its way into that crack, and would have frozen there. That would widen the crack, ever so slightly, and the next winter a little more water would have come in, and widened it a little more, until within four or five decades that freezing process would split the mass of granite off, and the figure would be ruined. Borglum was not carving for this generation, or the next. He meant to make that memorial as nearly immortal as human ingenuity can make anything. Therefore to leave it with the faintest trace of a crack in its surface was unthinkable.
But what was to be done? He could not go on setting the head back without upsetting the whole balance of his design. Jackson must stay where he was, and yet he must not start down the long road of the centuries with a crack in his nose. Calculations and measurements made on the surface of the rock showed that if the head were turned, and Jackson made to face in the direction of his gesture, instead of facing Lee, the nose would be brought into an area of sound granite, and the flaw would be left in the position of the eye-socket. Now on the terrific scale of that carving, Jackson's eye-sockets are six feet deep, so the drillers would go well beyond even a four-foot crack and leave the whole face in perfect stone. Orders were immediately issued, and drilling started on the head in its new position. On this work Borglum kept a particularly strict watch, because the workmen were drilling without anything to go by. The model of the central group--the only part of the whole model that had ever been made--was no longer a guide, because it had the head of Stonewall in its original position. Borglum ordered a carload of clay from New York to make a new and correct model, but he did not hold up work pending its arrival, and the head of Jackson was finally roughed out in its new position without any sort of guide except the sculptor's personal directions. After the roughing-out was completed, if anyone had attempted to finish carving the head according to the old model, he would have run into all sorts of difficulties. For one thing, where the nose should have been, according to the model, he would have found a great hole gouged in the rock, and where one eye-socket should have been, he would have found a protruding mass of stone. Stone-cutters following the false model would have ruined the whole block of stone, speedily and irretrievably.
That is why, when he learned that his dismissal from the job was contemplated, Borglum ordered the false model destroyed. It was the only way in which he could protect the face of the mountain from the possible bungling efforts of journeymen stone-cutters to finish the job by following that treacherous guide. So far from being a wanton act of spite, to destroy the false model was the only decent and honorable thing he could do. An unscrupulous man might have said nothing, waiting to laugh long and loud when his successor, trusting to the model as his guide, became involved in difficulties to the ruin of his own reputation and also to the ruin of the mountain. But such a course of action was inconceivable to a man whose heart and soul were wrapped up in the protection of the great work against any mischance.
It is not the purpose of this book to go into details regarding the disgraceful squabble that culminated in February, 1925, in the securing of an injunction restraining Borglum from approaching the work, and then in his indictment in Georgia for a felony, to wit, the stealing of one plaster cast, value fifty dollars. The plaster cast Borglum unquestionably did take and remove from the studio, and carry to Tucker's house, which is not on the property of the Association. He carried it there purposely. It was one of several art objects he had brought with him from Stamford. The committee did not know whose bust it was, what it meant, or whom it represented. The value of fifty dollars was put upon the cast, because under the law of Georgia the value of stolen property must be fifty dollars or more before the theft becomes a felony, and it was essential that he be charged with a felony, because only men charged with felonies are extraditable. After the explosion, Borglum had gone to North Carolina, and his enemies wished to drag him back in handcuffs to stand trial in a Georgia court.
The history of art is full of instances of artists who were sought by the police, but there is no parallel to this case. Benvenuto Cellini more than once had to disappear between two days, but the charge against him was usually at least as grave as murder. Michael Angelo was embroiled several times, but generally for some real or fancied insult to a reigning prince. Phidias was exiled from Athens, but he was charged with no less a crime than high treason. Borglum is without a peer in having been charged with stealing a plaster cast, value fifty dollars.
This outcome is so astounding that some explanation of the distasteful episode must necessarily be included in the story of Stone Mountain. The very fact that in 1925 the whole spirit in which the work had been conceived and carried on was repudiated, challenges attention. The Confederate memorial is nothing if it is not a work in praise of loyalty, honor and union in the service of an ideal. That such a work should have been in and of itself productive of double-dealing, dishonor and hatred, is inconceivable. Yet if we believe either side, if we take the word of Borglum or that of his enemies, the fact must be faced that double-dealing, dishonor and hatred, shattered the organization and brought the work abruptly to an end in February 1925.
As a matter of fact, here is no anomaly at all. It was not the memorial that hatched out this devil's brood. It was two and a half million dollars. Where the carcass is, there the vultures are gathered together. Where there are two and a half million dollars, there greed will be present, bringing in its train distrust, over-reaching, hatreds and betrayals. As long as the sums of money involved in this work were inconsiderable, a fine spirit was exhibited by every one who had to do with it. For seven years and more Borglum and the Daughters of the Confederacy worked together without a jar. They had no money then, and no cause for distrust and suspicion. There was no questioning the motives of any one who came into the organization then, as did Venable, for example, because there was no possibility of financial gain for any one. But as soon as the Association began to handle hundreds of thousands, and it became apparent that it was to handle millions, the whole situation was changed. Thenceforward there were immense possibilities of graft of many kinds, and it was inevitable that the host of people who suddenly exhibited willingness to help the Association handle its funds should be regarded with a certain suspicion.
In 1924, the personnel of the Association had altered materially. Mr. Webb, for example, had retired from the secretaryship, and there were other new officers. The problem of distribution of the coin, soon to be delivered by the mint, was pressing for a solution. It is undisputed that Borglum opposed three separate schemes that were brought before the Association, and his opposition helped to secure, if it did not insure, their defeat. Two of these schemes he opposed on the ground that they were honeycombed with graft, and the third, which was a proposal that the coin be turned over to a syndicate of big department stores to be used as premiums with every ten dollars worth of goods sold, he opposed on the ground that it would be a degradation of the coin. In the meantime, he had grown deeply suspicious of several members of the organization. He was informed that there was a clique in the Association that did not intend to build the memorial at all, but that intended instead to get control of the two and a half millions, then stop the work on some pretext, constitute themselves trustees of the fund, and enjoy the usufruct perhaps for the balance of their lives. He found evidence that more money was being spent in the Association offices than was being spent on the mountain. He called for an audit of the books by accountants known to be free of influence. He failed. He then brought an accountant from New York who made a partial audit, covering the operations on the mountain, but no detailed statement of office expense could be secured.
It is intended to give here only such facts as are admitted by both sides. Borglum's suspicions are mentioned only to account for the promptness with which he took action when the open break came. He was in Washington in February, 1925, trying to put through a claim which meant one hundred thousand dollars to the memorial. He had succeeded in getting a favorable report for the claim when a private telegraph message came warning him that there was trouble in Atlanta. No details were given, but no more than a hint was required to put him on the next southbound train. Arriving in Atlanta, he went straight out to the mountain, and there received a telephone message telling him that his enemies were in full control in a meeting of the executive committee then in session and that they would certainly do their worst. He believed that this meant an attempt to dismiss him from the work, and his opinion of the opposition was such that he believed them capable of taking the incomplete and misleading model in the studio and attempting to finish the work on the central group, to the certain ruin of the memorial and the mountain. It is to be borne in mind that at this moment he had received no official message from the executive committee. He had not been dismissed. He had not been approached at all by any representative of the committee. He was still in full charge of the work, with authority to do as he saw fit.
He saw fit to hand a crowbar to Homer and tell him to throw down the model. After Homer, stuttering with amazement, had heard the order twice repeated, and had finally realized that Borglum was in earnest, the sculptor walked away. The charge that he broke the model in a fit of rage does not jibe with the known fact that not only was he unable to lay a hand on his work himself, but that he could not bear to witness its destruction at the hands of another. Homer, after having just escaped being throttled by Tucker before he could explain that he was acting under orders, called in another man or two and the model had been reduced to broken bits of plaster five hours before a court officer arrived from Atlanta with an injunction ordering Gutzon Borglum to leave the property of the Stone Mountain Confederate Monumental Association and not to return unless he wished to go to jail for contempt of court. The men were called down from the face of the mountain, the court officer locked the studio door- locking in much of Borglum's property and many of his private papers, by the way--and the sculptor and his superintendent withdrew with Mrs. Borglum to a neighbor's house. There, just after dark, they received telephonic advice that the fury of the hostile group had exceeded all bounds when news came in that the model was destroyed. Warrants had immediately been sworn out for Borglum and Tucker, and police officers were then on the way to take them into custody and bring them back to Atlanta. Tucker took the message and acted with characteristic promptness and energy. He snatched Borglum away without giving him time for so much as a word of farewell to his wife, hurried him, expostulating and uncomprehending, to an automobile standing behind the house, and drove off. Sixty seconds later the police arrived, but they were sixty seconds too late.
Later the warrant was changed from "malicious mischief," a misdemeanor, to the charge of theft of the plaster cast, a felony and an extraditable offence, and descriptions of Borglum and Tucker were broadcast to the police of four states. Several days later Borglum surrendered to the police of Greensboro, North Carolina, and gave bond for his appearance there. But by that time the rage of the Atlanta group had begun to give way to common sense, and the request for extradition was withdrawn. However, the felony charge against Borglum was left standing in Georgia, so that it was impossible for him to go to Atlanta to defend his rights except by first submitting to the humiliation of being tried in police court for stealing his own property.
Such was the realization of the dream that Gutzon Borglum had dreamed when he stared at the plum-colored mountain in the afterglow, nine years before.