NEXT to Borglum himself, the greatest authority on how the work was actually done, is neither an engineer nor a sculptor, but a young Georgian who was drawn into the work purely by chance. In May, 1916, it was determined to hold a great ceremony dedicating Stone Mountain as a memorial to the Confederacy. The exercises were to be held on the level ground in front of the mountain, facing the cliff which was to bear the sculpture, and a feature of the decorations was a great Confederate flag, thirty by fifty feet, which was to be hung against the face of the cliff, about where the head of Lee is now. The big flag was supplied by patriots of the locality, but it was left to the sculptor to put it in place, and he hired men to do it, sending them out to the mountain two days in advance. He employed also an Atlanta contractor to build a platform for the speakers and the invited guests, down on the level ground.
The man who got the platform job was a youngster by the name of J. G. Tucker, who was just going into the building business in a small way and who, therefore, took a lively interest even in so small a job as building the platform. On the day of the dedication, he went out to the mountain just to make sure that everything was all right. He rode in the same automobile that took the sculptor himself, who was going out early also, to look after the final arrangements. As they came in sight of the cliff?, Borglum uttered an exclamation of dismay. The flag was nowhere in sight. Far up on the crown of the hill, outlined against the sky, were four or five pygmy figures struggling futilely with something on the ground. Borglum commented disgustedly on the efficiency of his crew.
"I'll hang that flag, if that's all you want," said Tucker.
"Can you get it there by one o'clock? It's ten now," asked Borglum.
"Sure," said Tucker.
At one o'clock, when the ceremonies began, the flag was hanging beautifully against the cliff, five-hundred feet above the heads of the spectators, four-hundred feet below the top of the cliff.
"Why, they had everything all ready when I got to the top," explained Tucker. "All I had to do was drop it down."
The explanation did not satisfy Borglum. He investigated. He discovered four negroes, still ashy in complexion from their experience on the top of that hill, but proudly telling a hair-raising tale to their fellows who had not been there. They told their tale to the sculptor. They were the men originally sent to the top of the mountain to anchor a pair of strong cables by which the flag was to be suspended. But they were prudent men. On the top they found a red line traced on the rock where the slope began to grow dangerous. They were aware that three men had crossed that line the previous year. They were also aware that each of the three had been picked up with difficulty from the rocks eight hundred and sixty-seven feet below and buried. They rightly considered that it was no part of their contract to lengthen the grisly record of Stone Mountain's tragedies, and they remained behind the red line. So did the flag, in spite of all they could do.
To them then came a stranger, a stocky man of Herculean strength, but obviously of no conspicuous agility. He said that he had never been on the mountain before. He took off his shoes and crossed the red line.
Aghast, they told him of his three predecessors. He spat, and continued to creep down the smooth face of the rock, pitched at an angle of more than forty-five degrees and increasing in steepness down to the point at which it dropped sheer to the level plain of Georgia far below. Fifty feet below the red danger line was a little bulge in the rock, almost imperceptible from the top, and yet a distinct flattening of the slope for a foot or two. He reached it on hands and knees. He stood up.
"Now you boys bring your drills and sledge-hammers down here," he said calmly.
They came. Perhaps the first practical miracle worked on Stone Mountain happened right then, when all four of them, impelled by some force they never have understood, pulled off their shoes and with terror clutching at their vitals, crept down the slope. They protested and expostulated, they swore they would never do it, but they came. Arrived on the precarious foothold of the bulge, they gathered confidence enough to swing the sledges. They drilled holes in the rock and inserted spikes to anchor the cables. Momentarily expecting the slip that would precede the plunge to death, they gathered up the folds and cast the flag over the edge. They crept back up the slope and in a few minutes stood on the top, safe and sound. They had broken the record of Stone Mountain. They had gone over the danger line and had come back alive. They felt the thrill of the great work and were not slow to tell of their achievement when they reached the ground below. They looked with immense respect on the stranger who had made them do it and pointed him out to their acquaintances.
"I need this man," said Borglum to himself, and hired him on the spot.
He kept him for nine years, except for the interval when work on the mountain was halted by the great war of 1917-18. During that period Tucker left Borglum for a job bigger even than Stone Mountain. He became Captain Tucker of the One Hundred Sixth Engineers. When the disturbance was over, however, he came back at once, looking for work on his old job, which he found existed no longer. The funds were exhausted. The war had diverted public attention from the work, and it was not until 1922 that enough money was collected to enable its resumption. As soon as that occurred, however, Tucker was back on the work in supreme command under the sculptor himself. He never left it again until he left it in 1925, sixty seconds in advance of a sheriff's officer, who had a warrant for Tucker, charging him with malicious damage to the work for which he had risked his life times without number, and whose successful completion was the greatest ambition he had ever conceived.
The story of Stone Mountain is full of apparent contradictions, paradoxes and anomalies. It is curious that everything went smoothly as long as funds were scarce and Borglum paid the bills, but that trouble developed as soon as two and a half million dollars came in sight. It is curious-unprecedented, indeed- that a great government should have taken part in building a monument commemorative of the valor of men who fought against it. But one of those curiosities can be explained by the innate weakness of human nature, and the other, by its innate fineness. More striking, because inexplicable by any of the written rules, is the fact that a man who is not a graduate engineer, not even a hard-rock man, nor a dynamite man, nor a stone-cutter, should have grappled successfully with an engineering problem involving rock that some able engineers had flatly declared impossible.
Perhaps the answer lies in the very fact that Tucker didn't know any rules. There were no rules for this particular job, because there was no precedent from which rules could be drawn. All that the best engineers knew about the job in the beginning, was that it had never been done successfully, from which they inferred, not unreasonably, that it couldn't be done. But Tucker didn't know even that much, so when Borglum told him to go ahead and do it, he went ahead and did it.