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Remembering Our Presidents: Mount Rushmore, Obama, And New York

We humans remember the departed. Frequently we honor them. This is even more true for our leaders. How we choose to remember, is part of what defines a culture.

The most famous example of remembering dead leaders is, of course, the pyramids. They already were a tourist destination thousands of years ago thousands of years after they had been built. By contrast, in America one would be hard-pressed to identify where an American president is buried. In New York, we have Grant’s Tomb. I frequently watch the double-decker buses stop on Riverside Drive and disgorge the tourists who angle for shots of the Hudson River, the George Washington Bridge, and Grant’s Tomb.

Mount Rushmore Carver Luigi Del Bianco

Another already famous Egyptian tourist destination in ancient times was the Sphinx. In this instance a king used an existing rock outcropping to carve his own face. The famous American equivalent is Mount Rushmore, where four presidents share a mountain face. As it turns out the chief carver of Mount Rushmore was Luigi Del Bianco of the Village of Port Chester in the town of Rye where I live.

On June 21, due to the tireless efforts of his grandson Lou Del Bianco a (much smaller) monument was unveiled in his honor. Local examples of Del Bianco’s work can be found locally. His grandson performed in the musical Flasbacks, the history of the town, which was performed for all the 4th graders in the village last September.

A book Carving a Niche for Himself: The Untold Story of Luigi Del Bianco has just been published. The story is part of the Italian immigrant story of living the American dream, but will the students who walk past the new monument daily ever study him in school? Or will he be forgotten like the other statues and memorials which dot the village?

Will a Port Chester Path to History be created to include such monuments and memorials? Imhotep, the Egyptian architect of the first pyramid, was elevated to divine status and worshiped thousands of years later by the Greeks, so you never know how our carver, Luigi Del Bianc, will be remembered.

A Presidential Library For Obama In NY?

Another way an ancient leader might be remembered is with a library. Alexander the Great had his library at Alexandria, a treasure of ancient texts was destroyed. Another ancient library is that of the 7th-century BCE Assyrian king Ashurbanipal, in which was found the epic of Gilgamesh.

Today, libraries are the way we remember our presidents, even before they have died. From humble beginnings under FDR, presidential libraries have become major institutions worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Every president is expected to leave a library.

While all eyes are focused on the World Cup, another competition is under way: to be the site for the Obama Library. In a previous post on this subject, I opined that Chicago was the likely location, but I may have written in haste. The University of Chicago might seem like an appropriate location given his tenure there but it is an elitist institution surrounded by an area of great trauma. Indeed there have been local demonstrations on behalf of building a trauma center in the neighborhood because that is what the local community needs. Shelling out big bucks for a presidential library may not go over well with many residents. As one CNN contributor put it, “Hawaii is looking better and better, isn’t it?”

Then there is Columbia University where Obama was an undergraduate. In my post, I suggested that with a massive expansion already underway in the Manhattanville section of Manhattan, there may not be room there for a presidential library. However, as it turns out, when the June 16 deadline neared, Columbia did submit a bid for precisely that location and with the support of the Mayor and the Governor.

A fully-detailed proposal is not due at this time and with the rumors that he might prefer to live in New York after his presidency anyway, anything is possible.



4 thoughts on “Remembering Our Presidents: Mount Rushmore, Obama, And New York

  1. Before we build a monument to Pres. Obama at Columbia (my grad school, MBA ’68), why not at least ask to see a copy of his transcript while there !? It might save a lot of time and effort taking it down someday.

  2. Manhattanville (West Harlem) makes complete sense. Since he still comes to Harlem to eat, fundraise.

    Someone, please give Bob a tissue!

  3. Not every ancient king had a library; regardless, presidents ought not be kings. Presidents used to donate their papers rather than erect shrines to themselves that would then be managed by the National Archives and Records Administration. Each new presidential library perhaps draws away more and more resources from NARA that could otherwise have gone to broader purposes – and when NARA’s budget is continually more apt to shrink than not.

    I’d be curious to know NARA’s ideas about what and where future presidential libraries could or should be. Much (though certainly not all) of what would go into a presidential library could be shared digitally, which would be fine for many research purposes.

    A monument to a president that isn’t a presidential library or which serves a broader purpose might be a nice idea. If Chicago wants and needs a trauma center, why not a Barack Obama Memorial Trauma Center? Or donate them to the Illinois State Archives with the money that typically goes into the formation of a presidential library going not just to the sharing of the presidential documents but everything the archive already has? If another New Yorker was ever elected, the NYS Library and Archives would benefit, I’d think, from an influx of $165M (the Clinton Library) or $250M+ (the GWB Library)? Part of what makes me think along those lines is something written by NYS Historian James Sullivan in 1919, excerpted as a block quote below:

    The Division of Archives and History of the University of the State of New York, in connection with the Municipal Arts Society of the City of New York, is trying to reach all public officials of the State for the purpose of urging them not to undertake the erection of memorials until a careful consideration is given to the plan.
    The proposition that we and the Municipal Art Society have been working on is that of urging the towns, incorporated villages, cities, countries and states to erect their memorials in the form of a memorial building. If such a plan is adopted we shall not only have a handsome memorial but also one which is useful for all time. It may be made into a community center for the activities of the political unit which erects it; a library may be housed within its walls; and it may be made to take care of the archives and public records of the towns and villages. For these latter units such a building could in part be made to serve the uses of the town and village clerks, and be a meeting place for town boards and village trustees. On the walls, externally or internally, could be placed the bronze tablets containing the names of those who had served their country. […]
    The Municipal Art Society has now under way the preparation of a pamphlet in which will be shown designs of memorial buildings. There will be a sufficient variety so as to make it possible for all communities to erect such buildings as are suitable to the means at their disposal. When we consider the cost of some of the memorials which have been put up to our Civil War veterans, we can realize how for the same or lesser amounts really substantial buildings can be erected as memorials for our soldiers in the present war.
    Very truly yours,
    James Sullivan,
    State Historian, and Director
    Division of Archives and History
    “Memorials; Better to Build Buildings Than Monuments To Commemorate Brave Deeds.” Wyoming County Times. January 2, 1919: 1 col 1.

  4. My mother, at the age of 12 had harp lessons from Borglum, the brother of the Rushmore one. Six degrees of separation!

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