THE pudding was prepared, but the eating thereof was yet to be tried. A lantern wired in a way unheard of, equipped with lenses arranged in an unheard-of fashion, and carrying a slide-holder tipped at an unheard-of angle, had successfully projected a picture for a distance never before attained, and apparently was casting sharp-edged shadows on the mountainside. All this pioneering work had been done merely as a means to an end, however, and if the end were not attained, it would be so much wasted effort, in so far as the Stone Mountain Memorial was concerned. It remained to be seen whether or not workmen actually could trace the outline on the mountain by means of the shadows. The only way to find out was for some one to go down the cliff. and examine the shadows at close range.
At this time no human being had ever gone from the top to the bottom of that cliff and lived. Borglum himself had hung over the edge, and Tucker as well as some of his workmen, had descended part way. But to make a full examination of the picture, it would be necessary to go down at night. It was no job for an inexperienced man, or a nervous man. It was no job on which a conscientious boss would send a workman. Therefore Tucker claimed it for his own.
On the night selected, he went to the summit with four picked men to handle the arrangement of windlass and winches which paid out the cable. Down by the lantern a little group stood to watch the experiment. Among them were two women, Mrs. Borglum and Mrs. Tucker, neither of whom wished to be there and neither of whom could stay away. Of them all, Tucker was the only one perfectly serene. He had inspected his cable and his machinery. He knew his men. Therefore when the light was cast upon the side of the hill, he adjusted his harness, gave the word to his men, and stepped off the edge of the abyss without the least uneasiness.
"What was there to worry about?" he asked later. "The cable was strong enough, and I knew those men. There wasn't one of them who wouldn't have stuck his arm in the gears rather than let that cable slip."
As he went over an overhanging projection on the edge of the precipice and swung clear of the rock wall, suddenly the light went out.
"I was glad of it," said Tucker. "That was a new cable, and there was a lot of spin in it. As soon as I swung clear of the rock, I began to whirl. It really didn't make any difference--it was only the twist coming out of the rope--but it wouldn't have looked nice to the folks down below. So I just shut my eyes and for the next fifty feet or so went down spinning like a top. Then the rock bulged out again, until I was able to touch it and stop myself, and presently they got the lantern adjusted and the light came on. We didn't have a bit of trouble."
The group below had a terrific half-minute, when their breath was stopped and their hearts were squeezed. But the light flashed on again, and there was Tucker, looking, at that height, like a black-beetle moving over the face of the cliff!. Borglum shouted to him to go back. Sound carries with singular clearness up the rock wall, and Tucker heard him, but he continued to move slowly down. The men at the winches heard nothing, and Tucker knew that they could not hear. He had arranged that before he began the descent. Across a field of white light the black-beetle moved, creeping steadily down. It came to the edge of a shadow, disappeared. There was a horribly long interval when nothing could be seen by the watchers below, and they could not tell whether the man still hung on the face of the cliff, or whether the cable had snapped and given Stone Mountain a fourth victim. Borglum shouted again, and in response there appeared on the mountain a faint and wavering spot of light. Tucker carried an electric torch and he had turned its beam against the cliff. In the midst of that spot his body was outlined. The descent continued. Three times he disappeared into similar shadows, and three times the watchers' hearts stood still. But eventually he arrived at the foot of the cliff without a scratch and far less moved by the incident than was Borglum, who mopped perspiration from his brow.
But Tucker arrived with another difficulty. Traveling down over the face of the cliff illuminated with a photograph of the model, had given him sufficient assurance that the problem of transferring the design was not yet solved. Almost from the beginning of the trip he had been lost. The enlargement of the picture was so gigantic that he had no means of determining upon what part of it his body rested. He could tell, part of the time, that he was in an area of light, and part of the time in an area of shadow, but that was all he knew. It was out of the question to distinguish, at close quarters, between half-tones and deep shadows. As for tracing the outline by following the edges of the shadows, that was not to be thought of.
This particular problem, however, did not halt operations. Borglum simply took transparent paper, laid it upon the photograph, and with a pen and India ink traced the outlines that he desired traced upon the cliff. Of this he made a slide, and when it was put into the lantern, the marks of his pen were thrown upon the rock as black lines six inches across. All that was needed then was a crew of workmen with the nerve to go down that cliff at night, paint-pot in hand, and paint along those lines. Such men were not lacking. Night after night they went over the edge with paint-pots and brushes, tracing the shadow lines -with white paint; and each succeeding sunrise found the great picture on the mountain a little larger, a little more nearly complete, until the central group was all sketched in. Every man who went down came back unscathed. Stone Mountain is stained with human blood, but the memorial is clean. That was partly due to good fortune, but it speaks eloquently also of incessant vigilance and meticulous care.
By the time the design had been sketched on the rock, a little air-compressor had been acquired and placed in commission on the top of the mountain. Thenceforth pneumatic drills could be used, and it was no longer necessary to suspend a group of men at the end of a cable to swing sledge-hammers over the brink of eternity. But even with the aid of compressed air, it soon became apparent that to drill out all the rock that would have to be removed would be awell-nigh endless task. The use of explosives was urged back and forth for months. Again the aid of experts was called for, and again it was cheerfully supplied, but without any great practical result`. Once more, it was a new field that the workers proposed to invade. Again the thing had to be attacked along the ancient line of trial and error.
Borglum was profoundly convinced that a faster method of roughing-out was practicable, and a dozen schemes flitted through his head. He thought of explosives, of course, but the terrible results that would follow a misplaced shot, or too heavy a charge, gave him pause. A model was easy to replace, or an ordinary block of stone. But he could not risk damag ing this block, because it was the only one of its kind in the world. Therefore, he racked his brain for expedients other than dynamite. He thought of pneumatic pressure, as it is employed in some quarries. He thought of hydraulic pressure. He considered splitting off the rock by the expansive power of dry wood gradually soaking up water, or by the expansion of metal slowly heated. He contemplated drilling a series of holes in the rock and driving into the holes pegs, either of metal or of wood, the metal subsequently to be heated, or the wood soaked. Some of his schemes were no doubt fantastic, but some of them he still believes would work.
But finally there appeared upon the scene a young Belgian engineer who was also a dynamite man. He had been drawn to the work simply as a sight-seer, but his comments on the engineering problem were 80 intelligent that Borglum finally explained his difficulty. They sat up most of a night talking it over. The Belgian was prompt to insist upon the use of explosives. He told Borglum of instance after instance in which they had been used under the most rigid control, not on a job of this particular kind, to be sure, but in many places where there was no less need for a clean fracture, without shattering. He convinced the sculptor that the method could be adapted to the work at Stone Mountain.
A high-priced expert from one of the great powder companies was therefore imported to teach the working crew how to handle dynamite, and one of Tucker's men, a young fellow named Cliff Davis, was detailed to that particular job. The expert knew what he was about, and Davis proved himself a capable student. Soon he came to the point at which he would place a row of charges, draw a semicircle on the rock under them, and then make bets with the boys that when he touched the charges off the line of fracture would be nowhere more than three inches from his chalk-line.
But even with such demonstrated accuracy no chances were taken. A sort of dead-line was drawn around each central block, at no point closer than within six inches of where carving was to begin, and in some places as much as two feet away. Along this line an incision was made in the rock at least as deep as the dynamite was to go, so that in case the granite did begin to split, the splitting would stop at this incision, and the central block would not be damaged.
Nevertheless, every one concerned felt that it was in some respects the most daring step in his career when Borglum, a few months before cessation of the work, in 1925, began to carry on his roughing-out by shooting the rock off with dynamite. In this, as in the matter of the cables, one error, one moment's carelessness or neglect, meant a fatality. No human life was at stake, but a single shot too heavy, or incorrectly placed, might easily shatter the face of the mountain so badly that it would be almost or quite impossible to remedy the damage. But Cliff Davis refused to make mistakes. The rock thundered down the mountain by thousands of tons, but it always came from the right place and there were no unexpected cracks and holes left behind. The dynamite man handled his terrific instrument carefully, deftly, delicately. His charges were frequently no bigger than the end of his thumb. It is said, indeed, that his average charge was a section of a stick of dynamite shorter than the cap that set it off. His firing was done electrically, of course, and the explosion, when he touched offs a long row of charges, was more a thud than a roar. But regularly great sections of the rock were heaved away, leaving a clean, smooth surface behind. Little by little, the masses of the central group began to show upon the surface of the cliff, and the drills had only to cut the figures out of relatively small blocks of stone.
In the meantime, Tucker had brought down the face of the precipice all that was necessary, including a blacksmith shop. Just above the place where the rock fell sheer, he placed it. Viewed from below, it seemed to be clinging to a straight wall, like a fly or a great beetle, but in reality it was solidly set on vertical steel bars, prevented from bending in the middle by being encased in iron pipe. It was capable of carrying a load of twenty tons, if necessary, but the heaviest piece of machinery ever placed in it weighed only seven and a half tons. Perched just above the place where General Lee's hat is to appear, it obviated the necessity of making a five-hundred-foot climb to the top of the mountain whenever it was necessary to sharpen a drill point, or replace a broken handle.
The immensity of the labor involved in all these operations appalled visiting engineers. Again and again when men whose names are watchwords in the engineering world came to inspect the labor and were asked for suggestions, they proposed one thing--an elevator. Plans for an elevator were drawn, and were approved by the best engineering authority, but its cost was estimated at twenty thousand dollars.
"If we had twenty thousand dollars," said Borglum and Tucker, "we wouldn't spend it on an elevator. We would buy a bigger air-compressor, and double the speed with which these figures are being drilled out. We have no material to haul up, and as for our men, they are willing to walk."
Then they would point to Homer. Homer is a Georgia negro and as fine a physical specimen as one could hope to find in all the South. He is of moderate stature, probably just under five feet eleven, coal black and endowed with startling strength. Many a time Homer has taken a timber two by eight inches and eighteen feet long--a reasonable load for two strong men on level ground--and lifting it from the wagon on which it was brought to the top of the mountain, has walked to the edge of the cliff and down the ladderlike stairs to the platform, four-hundred and eighty feet below, without setting the timber down or pausing for breath. On one occasion he brought down from the top of the mountain, single handed, twenty-two bags of cement in half a day. That is to say, he transported a weight considerably over a ton down that incline.
Homer began work on the job the day work was started, and it was he who broke the models on the day that it stopped. He drew two dollars and fifty cents a day, and he could have got more money in the quarry at the foot of the mountain, where there would have been no necessity of risking his neck with every step he took. But Homer's loyalty is no isolated case. Rather, it is typical of the spirit of the men employed on the mountain.
"It's the only job that I ever was on," says Tucker, "where the trouble was not to get the workmen to stick, but to run 'em off' when you didn't want 'em."
Mr. Borglum decided that the first bit of carving done was to be the head of Lee, which is the center and key of the whole picture. In June, 1923, the first drill bit into the rock on the actual carving. The work began extremely slowly, but another air-compressor was secured, and it began to speed up. More men were put on and it went faster and faster. The roughing-out of Lee's head was completed on December 1st, 1923, and then came the carvers, three men skilled in cutting figures, three genuine sculptors Nobody was allowed to touch this work except under Borglum's personal supervision, and when it came down to those last few touches which give its character to a carved face, even the sculptors stood aside, and the master of the work, with his own hand, brought the job to a close.
January 19, 1924, a crowd of fifteen or twenty thousand people gathered at the foot of Stone Mountain to witness the unveiling of the head of Lee. Borglum with Mrs. Plane sat on a platform half a mile away from the mountain, with a group of distinguished guests. It is a curious fact that he, himself, was now to see his work for the first time from a range of more than fifteen feet. Afterward the sculptor learned that in all that polite and congratulatory crowd there was scarcely a man who expected to see a real portrait when the flags covering the face were drawn away. They knew that there was some kind of head there, to be sure, but they were morally certain that nothing better than a conventional figure could be produced by pneumatic drills on a mountainside.
At last the signal was given and the covering flags were swept back. There was dead silence on the platform, and for a sickening moment the sculptor believed that his work had failed. Then from somewhere back in the crowd a hushed, amazed voice spoke up.
"My God!" it said. "It is Lee!"
The spell broke and the roar from the crowd crashed back in echoes from the stone wall. The bandmaster woke from his trance and leaped into action and as the brasses and drums rushed into the battle song of the Confederacy the distinguished assembly on the platform stormed Borglum. They wrung his hand until his arm was numb, they hugged him, they wept without trying to conceal their tears. At that moment Borglum touched the apogee of his career. The South belonged to this man from Idaho, for he had paid the perfect tribute to the South's idolized hero. In turn he had the tribute of the South. They played Dixie for him. They raised the rebel yell for him. They gave him the last and highest tribute of unconcealed tears.
Later they called him a felon and sent a sheriff's officer after him with handcuffs ; but nothing can blot out of existence that day, January 19, 1924, when he tasted triumph. Such moments are what men live for and what artists above all other men live for. No matter what came afterward, or what may come in the future, in view of what happened on that day, it can not be denied that Gutzon Borglum has lived.