Was Mt. Rushmore’s Italian American Chief Carver Chiseled Out of Fame Because He Didn’t Play Baseball?
That’s the interesting, albeit controversial, question posed in author Douglas J. Gladstone’s new book, Carving a Niche for Himself; The Untold Story of Luigi Del Bianco and Mount Rushmore.
Though Rushmore sculptor and designer Gutzon Borglum’s own correspondence in the Library of Congress clearly indicates that Luigi Del Bianco was the glue that held the project together, Del Bianco for some inexplicable reason has never received the credit in scholarly publications or documentaries on the creation of the memorial that many individuals believe he is deserving of.
The book takes the National Park Service to task for its failure to recognize Del Bianco, despite the agency’s long-standing commitment to practicing multiculturalism and pluralism. The Park Service’s Midwestern Regional office is located in Omaha, Nebraska; Michael Reynolds is the Regional Director.
The book also suggests that many of the Keystone, South Dakota miners who Del Bianco supervised may have had a bias against him because they feared that he was a threat to them. Del Bianco, who was paid the highest salary — $72 per week — “did not pal around with the men,” according to the late Matt Reilly, who worked as a pointer at Mount Rushmore. In addition, the late George Rumple, who worked as a foreman at the memorial, told Del Bianco’s daughter, Gloria, in a taped 1991 interview that “he did not make conversation with a lot of the men.”
Borglum and his son, Lincoln, also fielded a competitive baseball team that advanced to the state regionals in 1938 and 1939. The pair reportedly would hire workers just because they could play the sport. Though a majority of the new hires could swing a bat and drill one into centerfield, they had no idea how to use the jackhammers or drills used to carve the four presidential faces.
In the Carvers’ Café at Mount Rushmore, the Memorial Team Ice Cream Station is named in honor of the baseball team formed by the workers. Life-size pictures of the men in their uniforms are on the walls near the station.
“Was it because he wasn’t on the baseball team?,” wonders Gloria Del Bianco. “He was a sculptor, his hands were his livelihood, what was he supposed to do, grab a glove and play ball?”
Among the work they did together prior to Mount Rushmore, Del Bianco assisted Borglum on the Wars of America Memorial in Newark, New Jersey. Del Bianco’s studio was a fixture on Clinton Street, in Port Chester, New York for years following his work in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
A native of Meduno, in the Italian Province of Pordenone, Del Bianco died of accelerated silicosis that was brought on, in part, by his years of not wearing a mask while working at the monument. He lived and worked in Barre, Vermont when he first came to America in 1907.
Published by Bordighera Press, Carving A Niche for Himself was released on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. To order it, please call Small Press Distribution at 800-869-7553.