Hidden Hall of Records at Mount Rushmore

Entrance to the Hall of Records at Mount RushmoreCapstone which protects the titanium vault and documents

The entrance to the unfinished Hall of Records at Mount Rushmore, and the close-up of the capstone and inscription which protects the titanium vault with charter documents. Special thanks to my anonymous friend for providing the photos.

A short newspaper article caught my eye awhile ago. It had mentioned that the movie production for National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets had asked permission to shoot at the Mount Rushmore National Monument in a place called the Hall of Records. I had never heard of the Hall of Records. I probably would have forgotten about the news article except a Park Service friend of mine came through town, and told me he had actually visited the Hall of Records. Now I really wanted to know more about this place. So, I called the park. Assistant Chief of Interpretation, Rhonda Buell Schier, was able to give me some answers.

It turns out that the monument sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, had an incredibly elaborate vision for the mountain that included much more than the four presidential heads we see today. He had wanted to carve the shape of the Louisiana Purchase into the mountain, and inside the shape, carve descriptions of the most significant events in American history. Logistically that plan wasn't going to work out, so he created a new plan for a Hall of Records, with the goal of creating a repository for the story of our country for future civilizations. Documents in this repository would include our nation's charter documents. Borglum had even started blasting and drilling out the cavity in the mountain for this chamber. Funding for the project was coming from the government, and they had asked that Borglum focus his efforts towards completing the faces before any more work was done on the Hall of Records. In 1941, Borglum died, and work on the project effectively came to a halt.

The idea of having a vault didn't die though. Borglum's original plan was revised a bit, but the intent remained, and in 1998, tablets with the story of our nation were sealed in a vault in the unfinished Hall of Records. Sixteen porcelain enamel panels containing the text from the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, along with a biography of Borglum, and the story of the presidents, were sealed in a teakwood box, then placed in a titanium vault, and finally sealed shut under the weight of a 1,200 pound granite capstone inside the unfinished hall.

This is not a time capsule. These documents are to remain buried for thousands of years. Borglum literally had it in mind to send the message of our country to future civilizations. He said, "you might as well drop a letter into the world's postal service without an address or signature, as to send that carved mountain into history without identification."

Access to the Hall of Records is closed to the public. Because the Hall is located behind the heads, near the cliffs, public safety is a concern. Part of the story in the National Treasure movie apparently does take place in the Hall of Records, but what appears in the movie may only be aerial shots of the entrance. Set designers in Hollywood will recreate the rest. To get a glimpse of the entrance today, or to learn more about the Hall of Records, Rhonda had suggested this book which is available from the Mt Rushmore bookstore.