Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mounting America

Last week I was in South Dakota in the Mount Rushmore area with CHNW(crazy half-nekked wife, left) and her CFCF (crazy fully-clothed family, not pictured). Here's why the trip was particularly meaningful for me.

When I was a teen, I found an old snapshot in a drawer at my grandparents' house. It was taken by my grandfather in 1930, when he was traveling around the country looking for work. He was a bricklayer, so he'd go from job to job, wherever he could find them, and send money home to his wife and kids. Along with one of those letters came the photo below, with this enscription on the back.

(For a better view, click the image to enlarge it)

Pretty good handwriting for a Sicilian bricklayer with a limited education, eh? Of course, in his day, schools employed the infamous "Penmanship-or-Die" method.

Below is a shot of me with the photo, in front of the completed project. There are only four heads, not five, as my granddad wrote – not sure if five were planned at the time he was there, or if someone gave him wrong info. He didn't get the names quite right, either. They are, from left to right: Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan, and Louis Armstrong.

In the closeup shot of Rue below, you can see some prairie dogs on her head, erecting a primitive antenna of some sort. So much for non-human animals not being able to use tools.

Another cool place we visited is the Crazy Horse monument. This one is WAAAAY bigger than Mt. Rushmore, which is why they've made so little progress and aren't predicted to finish it before the sun goes supernova. In the foreground is a statue of what they would like it to look like, in the background, over 320 miles away, is what it actually looks like.

If you click the bottom pic below to enlarge it, you can make out white lines on the mountain's lower right corner that represent the horse's ear and eye. Settle down, it isn't vandalism, but part of an official change of approach as they reaized that drawing on the mountain is faster and easier than carving it. The drawing is projected to be finished by 2084.

In that same shot, you can see the face of whoever that guy is that is riding Crazy Horse. To give you perspective on the size, three school buses full of fat kids could fit into the nostril, and did in the early nineties during an incredibly strange highway accident. All of the children were rescued, but the buses were left in place for fear of nasal collapse.

We also visited Deadwood, the original city of HBO fame. CHNW and I are big fans of that show and her dad, whom we call "Stranger," is actually an obsessed stalker of it. Here is a pic of Stranger standing out front of the saloon where Wild Bill Hickok was gunned down.

Inside, they have a small room at the back that is supposedly where the regrettable event actually happened. It is made up to look exactly as it did then with eerily realistic mannequins reenacting the crime. No detail was spared in this uncanny recreation and I can only imagine what it must have cost.

I was so caught up in the moment, I lunged at Bill to warn him of the approaching gunman. Wow, was I embarrassed when I remembered it was 2008 and the whole thing was just a display.

You can also visit the cemetery where all the stars from the TV show are buried: Wild Bill, Clamato Jane, Sherriff Seth Bullock, etc.

Bullock's grave is interesting because people have put various keepsakes and offerings on top of the headstone. Among them are flowers, necklaces, candles, a plastic kid's sherriff badge, various bits of trash and doodads, and numerous business cards, as displayed here by the lovely CHNW. Also interesting is that his full name was apparently "Seth Bullock Pioneer Martha His Wife ." I guess I can understand why he didn't want to go by "Sheriff Wife."

As if it were possible to have even more fun, we did. We took a long, leisurely drive (around 83 hours, by my internal clock) through the outback of South Dakota and saw many gorgeous wildlife-style things. Here are a few samples of our zoological eye feasts that day.

This is the Pronghorned Horse. The park ranger said that thing on her neck is a radio collar. He didn't say what kind of radio the horse likes to listen to, though.

At right, a young moose, yet to grow his antlers.

The Wooly Monkey Horse, left, and the ass of a jackass.

The Great American Bison, or "Buffalo." Before the white man came with his saloons and bar snacks, they are said to have had wings.

Not all buffaloes have underdeveloped twins growing out of their foreheads as this one does. Local people carve these beautiful beasts up with knives and hatchets and eat them like they were popcorn. Many of the locals are the size of buffaloes themselves, as a result.

Our last shot is from the lawn out front of a family museum attraction, where children are taught to shoot lethally sharp objects at their fellow mammals in an attempt to procure a feeling of accomplishment from their suffering.

CHNW and I wanted desperately to get hold of a human child-sized mannequin, paint a target on it and add it to the lineup.

All in all, South Dakota is beautiful and well worth a visit. I'm never comfortable long in places where animals are so blatantly disregarded as individuals and patriotism is so blindly flaunted, but the land was gorgeous and the people were friendly as hell. Your results may vary.


Anonymous said...

Wow, in the first photo I am amazed that there are that many people who know where South Dakota is. Must have been a tourist convention in town.

How many models do jackasses come in? I think you can start a coffee table book with the photos who already have collected.

La Framéricaine said...

My husband carves limestone for a living and we have one foot out of the US and into France. However, one of the last trips we are going to make in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave is to Mt. Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Monument, Badlands and everything in between.

After your post, I won't need a guidebook. I'll just follow your crumb trail.


kerrikoo said...

Wow.. it's eerie how realistic those mannequins look!!...

Fooled me!!!.

jmarcv said...

No Jackelopes?

Jezzka said...

Is Rue McClanahan the one with the moosetash? I always knew she was a man trapped in a man's body...

hee hee.

Rebecca C. Brown said...

You went all the say to South Dakota and you didn't visit the (World's Only) Corn Palace in Mitchell? I might be the only person in Oakland who has been to the Corn Palace not once but twice.

I can't for the life of me figure out why the world had but one Corn Palace.

Oh yeah, and the Badlands and Custer State Park also are amazing. If you're into that kind of "awe inspiring" slop.

Anonymous said...

"whoever that guy is that is riding Crazy Horse."

Good one.

HollyBerry said...

i wonder if that plastic kid with the sheriff badge had trouble placing his momentum on top of Bullock's grave.. i would imagine his plastic appendages would be difficult to maneuver.

great post! i was wondering when you would tell us all about your adventures. glad you and your CHNW had fun! and i'm also glad you like deadwood because now i can ask, how depressing is it that they cancelled it after only 3 seasons?! then again, how far would they have had to stretch the plot to keep it just as interesting as the first two seasons? i digress..

Penny Mitchell said...

Is CHNW's hair pink, or does it just look like that in the photos? Because if it's pink, I, as a hetero, happily married Christian girl would like to marry her, if you would approve. Her hottitude knows no bounds.

JuliaMazal said...

Aw, I was there so long ago. I love South Dakota. You described it very well. The Black Hills were breathtaking and the ubiquitous antler chandeliers creeepy. And there's a souvenir chunk o' granite from the Crazy Horse monument still on my bookshelf.

(I went to the Corn Palace too, Ms. Brown! Yay, random structures made of maize!)