THE duration and the burden of the struggle were hidden also from the women who received their answer the next day, although none of them failed to realize that it would be long and arduous. What the sculptor proposed was to carve on the side of the mountain a sculpture, heroic in size, representing the army of the Confederacy, with portrait figures of its leaders. The group was to be fifty feet high, and probably four or five-hundred feet long. It was an audacious proposal, a gigantic concept. Yet, as time revealed, it was but a timid, hesitant first step along the road that the project was destined to follow. When work actually began, it was upon a design two-hundred feet high, and thirteen-hundred feet long!
The story of Stone Mountain is the history of three struggles against three distinct problems, calling for the exercise of three different! talents: those of the engineer; of the publicist; and of the artist. In 1916, the group in Atlanta had two assets, and only two, neither of which had the slightest value in the eyes of the world at large. There was the passionate devotion to an ideal of the Daughters of the Confederacy. Upon the practical value in the eyes of business men of that particular asset there is no need of comment. There was in addition, the dream of a sculptor. Sometimes, as when it is presented to a Lorenzo de'Medici, for instance, the dream of a sculptor has value that even commercialists recognize. But here was no Lorenzo, and besides, this particular dream was so extraordinary that even sculptors regarded it as wildly fanatical, upon-if not clear across-the verge of insanity. Compared to it, even the devotion of the women was of more value on the open market.
What it was proposed to accomplish with such inconsiderable means, was an engineering feat without parallel. The amount of material to be moved was not great, by comparison with such huge projects as the digging of a ship-canal, or the building of a large irrigation plant ;but some such project must be used as a standard of comparison if one is to regard the Stone Mountain job as small from the engineer's standpoint, for the sheer mass of material involved ran into thousands of tons of rock. The engineer's task became appalling, however, when the peculiar conditions surrounding this job were taken into consideration. These thousands of tons of rock were not simply to be removed from one place to another. They were to be taken from the face of a sheer precipice, neither from its brow nor from its foot, but from a spot half-way between. The workers must descend four-hundred feet from the top, and work with a sheer drop of five-hun dred feet or more below them. The rock must be taken out with the impossible precision of Shylock's pound of flesh-neither an ounce too much, nor an ounce too little. It must come from spots indicated with the utmost care and exactness ;and one careless blast, one bite of a single drill driven too deep might ruin the whole work. It is anything but wonderful that many of the best engineers whose opinion was sought smiled and shook their heads.
Hardly less terrific was the task laid out for the publicist. It was apparent from the beginning that no such project as the Stone Mountain Memorial could be the work of any individual, or any group of individuals. A newspaper writer might conceive the idea of a memorial on the mountain. A small group of women might nourish the idea and strive to realize it, as the Atlanta Daughters of the Confederacy did. An artist might evolve the design and make it in a small-scale model, as Gutzon Borglum did. But the realization of such a dream clearly called for the joint effort? of innumerable hands and brains. It meant years of labor on the part of many workmen, which, in turn, meant the expenditure of millions of dollars. The raising of millions is no impossible feat in America, but it is not done without a good cause, ably presented.
The presentation of this cause called for ability of a particularly high order, because there were so many ways in which it might be presented badly. After all, it had to be admitted that the memorial was intended to commemorate the valor of men who fought against the United States of America. The seed of war is hate, and it bears fruit according to its kind. The collision of the sections was fifty years past, but the hatreds it had engendered were not yet dead, and even among thoughtful southerners there was a considerable body of opinion that deprecated any movement that seemed to emphasize the quarrels of long ago. Among northerners, on the other hand, there was an uneasy feeling that the very admission that there were great souls among the leaders of the Confederacy, could be construed as an admission that those who opposed the Confederacy might have been of a lesser breed, an admission which no self-respecting northerner can ever make. It was the task of the publicist to emphasize the spiritual truth of the memorial, that it commemorates, not a cause, but valor; not a political theory, but the self-sacrificing devotion that leads heroes to death for what they believe to be right, regardless of what flag flies over them.
The third problem, the artist's problem, was the most difficult of all. It is difficult even to state it. It involved profound psychological alterations and inhibitions. It called for thinking in new dimensions. Sculpture is ordinarily a matter involving feet and inches, but the employment of any such scale here would have been fatal. Even to talk of an equestrian figure, and a portrait at that, a hundred and thirty-seven feet high was regarded as preposterous. The sculptor who undertook such a work, conceived in such terms, would inevitably forget his portrait in thinking of the hundred and thirty-seven feet. Handling Stone Mountain effectively meant first of all the mental feat of reducing Stone Mountain to manageable size. How Gutzon Borglum went about it is not altogether clear to the sculptor himself, but he knows that he simply refused to think of the mountain as a mountain at all, and considered it merely as a plaque, or as a hatful of clay which he could hold in his two hands and carve with a lead-pencil or a match.
The audacity of that feat is to be appreciated to the full only by artists, but it may be grasped in part by anyone who is familiar with the hill itself, or with any mountain of comparative size. Stone Mountain, however, is almost, if not quite, unique. It is probably the largest upthrust of flawless granite in the world. It measures eight hundred and sixty-seven feet high by almost a mile long. From its crest, on the northwestern side, it describes a parabolic curve for about three hundred feet, after which the drop is practically sheer. It is like nothing else so much as a mighty cataract, a Niagara of stone five times as high as the Niagara of water. Reducing it to a little sculptor's clay was an imaginative feat comparable to reducing Niagara to the contents of an after-dinner coffee cup poured into a saucer.
Nonetheless, nine years after the sculptor stared at the mountain in the afterglow, all three problems had been attacked successfully. The engineer's job had been done so far that the technical difficulties remaining were merely those of intelligent execution of plans and the maintenance of an adequate supply of labor. And contrary to the gloomy predictions of many experts, not a single life had been lost. The publicist's job had been done to the extent that the interest, not of the South alone, but of the whole nation, and the official cooperation of the United States Government, had been enlisted. As for the problem of the artist, it is sufficient to say that every morning's sunlight now falls upon the face of Lee. That great head is finished. The rest of the central group is blocked out. The completion of the remainder of the memorial is not only possible, but easily within the powers of the man who began it.
This modern miracle is indeed far from being the work of Gutzon Borglum alone. It is the work of thousands of people, the vast majority of whom are hardly aware that they had a hand in it. But Borglum is the one man who played an important part in the solution of all three problems, and the man who knows most about how they were attacked. One man may describe accurately enough how a particular deal was financed, and another can tell how an intricate bit of machinery was devised; but when it comes to the whole story of Stone Mountain, Gutzon Borglum alone can speak with authority.