VIII

THE reorganization of the Association was prose- cuted vigorously in 1923. Borglum had secured some voluntary committees to work with the Daughters of the Confederacy, and had found an excellent exec- utive secretary in David W. Webb. The actual work on the mountain was likewise driven at increasing speed. The sculptor had raised some money by his personal efforts. Now he signed a contract for mo- tive power at the mountain, to be supplied by an elec- tric power company, purchased dynamos and pushed the work along in other ways, although he was still without a contract with the Association and had no assurance that he would not have to continue to meet all the bills, as he had met them for the last seven years.

Then came proposals of all kinds for raising money. One of them was to issue a Children's Medal, to be sold for a dollar. Borglum immediately undertook the designing of it, completed it within sixty days and delivered it to the Association early in May. This was not part of his work on the memorial, but it was part of the general plan for the support of the work, and he was willing to do anything that promised to contribute to the success of the main project. Later he was to pay dearly for this neglect to protect himself with legal safeguards, for this very contribution of the Children's Medal was brought up against him. Not even his enemies were reckless enough to deny that he had given it to the Association free of charge, but they tried to blacken his character in another way. Borglum had named a manufacturer whom he considered, reliable, but the Association chose to turn the contract for manufacturing the medal over to another concern, and after the dispute of February, 1925, Borglum's protest was cited as evidence that he hoped for graft from the firm that he had named.

For the moment, however, all went well. The organization was gradually perfected. A contract was finally drawn and signed. Thanks to the efforts of various people, notably Mr. Webb, some money began to come in. The drain on Borglum's private resources was checked and then stopped. In fact, he got some of his money back, as has been noted. But to every one familiar with the magnitude of the work, it was plainly apparent that money was not coming in sufficient quantities to assure the completion of so gigantic a project within the lifetime of any of the participants in it. Daily the necessity increased for some special effort some powerful thrust to put the thing over once and for all. The Association needed money in great quantities and within a comparatively short time.

Then David Webb began to talk of a coin similar to the Alabama Centennial coin to be struck by the United States mint and turned over to the Association. Harry Stilwell Edwards presented the same idea to a member of the executive committee, who, in turn, presented it to the board. Whether Edwards got the idea from Webb, or conceived it himself independently of Webb, is a matter of some interest, since the Association later undertook to pay Edwards thirty thousand dollars for his idea.

At any rate, it was generally agreed that if this plan could be carried through, it would mean the salvation of the memorial. It was the first entirely feasible plan to raise great sums of money that had been evolved. It is the one thing on which the Association relied, even after Borglum had been forced out of the work. Upon the success of the coin the early completion of the memorial depended, because upon the success of the coin depended its only hope of controlling vast sums of money.

The United States Government has issued commemorative coins on more than one occasion--every one, for instance, is familiar with the Columbian Exposition half-dollar, issued for the benefit of the Chicago World's Fair. The Confederate memorial coin, however, was a project of much greater size. Briefly, it called for the issuance, by the mint, of five million half-dollars of a special design. The entire issue was to be turned over to the Association at its face value, that is two million, five hundred thousand dollars, and the coins were then to be sold by the Association for a dollar apiece, which would put into the Association's treasury the respectable sum of two and a half millions.

Unfortunately, though, the scheme presented a number of difficulties. It was unprecedented in other ways than merely in its size. In the first place, the mint is traditionally hard to satisfy in the matter of the design of new coinage. No great difficulty was anticipated there, though, for Gutzon Borglum was on hand to create the design and readily, indeed eagerly, undertook to do so. It was not in order of his regular work, to be sure, but it was the work of the memorial, so the fact that it was not in the contract never occurred to him

But beyond that lay other and graver difficulties. This was a proposal to ask the United States Government to issue a special coin for a memorial commemorative of the valor of men who had fought against it! Here was a poser indeed, and long and anxious were the consultations that were held over it. Here again Borglum was full of ideas. He explained them to the directors and was asked to go to Washington to see what he could do, and the results were so promising that he was put in complete charge of the passage of the Coin Act, and the making of the design.

The tale of that journey is one of the finest chapters in the story of Stone Mountain. Borglum called upon three men, from none of whom had he much reason to expect help, and from whom he had very definite reasons to expect repulses. The three were Henry Cabot Lodge, Senator from Massachusetts, author of the Force Bill which had made him perhaps more cordially hated in the South than any other man in public life; Reed Smoot, Senator from Utah and leader of the Republican party, which the South religiously votes against in every election; and Calvin Coolidge, President of the United States, against whose election Borglum himself had voted as a supporter of the La-Follette-Wheeler ticket.

He began with Lodge.

"Senator, this is a thing unprecedented in the history of the world," he said. "I am asking you to break the precedent of every civilized nation. But I am asking you to do a thing that is bigger than any precedent -I am asking you as a northerner and a Republican to do this gracious and friendly act for the Democratic South to signalize the sincerity of the friendship that the North professes for the South. I want the United States Government to write on this coin, 'Commemorating the valor of the soldiers of the South,' as notice to the world that we no longer recognize differences between Americans, and that the glory of one section is the glory of us all."

And Lodge, long held to be the arch-enemy of the South, said,

"Borglum, it is a beautiful idea. Go to Smoot, chairman of the finance committee. I will see him, too, and do all I can for you. I heartily approve your plan.

He went to Smoot. That Republican leader, knowing that there was not a vote to be gained, and perhaps many to be lost among prejudiced northerners, said,

"Leave it to me. I would like to handle it for you."

He went to the president. He replied, "When Congress is through with it, and it has passed the committee, I will do what is right."

Borglum had appealed from sectionalism to Americanism, and the response had been instant, generous and fine. The bill was introduced into a Congress heavily Republican and in addition stirred by the animosities always generated by a presidential election, but it went through without a single vote against it.

But the sculptor's troubles with that coin had only begun. Political leaders might be stirred by generous emotion, but not so the mint. The only emotion that stirs the mint is the emotion excited by a mintable design, accurately executed. Borglum had still to design a coin that would meet that test. He was determined to have upon it the heads of Lee and Jackson as he had conceived them for the memorial. He withdrew to his studio in Connecticut and set to work. Laboriously he put together a composition and modeled it in large plaque form. Such work has to be done with extreme care, for the slightest error will destroy the balance and render the design worthless for minting. At length he finished two plaques, obverse and reverse, and sent them to Washington. Back they came, promptly rejected. He went to work on another pair, with the same result. A third. Ditto. A fourth. A fifth. Eight separate times he designed that coin, and eight times the mint ruthlessly turned it down. Only at the ninth endeavor did he succeed in pleasing Washington's fastidious taste, and in the meantime, months had passed.

In spite of this labor, however, he had constantly kept in touch with the work in Georgia, and Tucker's drills had never ceased to hammer at the rock, Cliff Davis's minute charges of dynamite had never ceased to thud. Two or three times he laid off his sculptors, but the process of roughing out went forward steadily. At last, however, the design for the half-dollar was accepted, and the production of the coin was thenceforward in the hands of the mint. Borglum was released to put the finishing touches to the great head of Jackson and to taste his moment of triumph after eight years of labor.

And then he found the crack in Jackson's nose.





Previous Page | Title Page | Document Archive | Key Players | Timeline | Mail | Next Page