This month Pierre, SD, resident Don “Nick” Clifford, the last surviving person to work on the original Mount Rushmore carving, turned 95 years old.
He worked on the project from 1938 to 1941, and then returned to his mining job in Keystone, SD. He says he was paid 55 cents an hour, $9.40 in today’s dollars, and he was the youngest person on the project at the time. He calls it “the greatest thing with which I was ever involved.” He joined the ranks of sculptor Gutzon Borglum’s work team because he was an excellent baseball pitcher and he knew how to work a jackhammer. Borglum wanted an ace amateur team, so he hired workers who could play as well. Clifford was assigned to work on the Lincoln bust.
Clifford told the Associated Press that at first the project was just a job. “You went up there, went to work, did your job and didn’t think much about it. You might have thought, ‘Would it ever be completed one day?’ “But, the more you worked, the more familiar you became with your job, the more important the project became to each of us. That’s why we came back every year. We became attached to the mountain more and more every year, to Mr. Borglum and to Lincoln.”
From 1927 to 1941, about 400 workers built the memorial. In spite of the dangerous conditions, no workers died during the project.