“The truth is like the sun; you can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t going away.” That quote from Elvis Presley has always struck a chord with me.
Especially when my thoughts turn to an obscure Italian immigrant named Luigi Del Bianco.
I hope it strikes a chord with Nevada’s United States Representatives Mark Amodei and Joe Heck too.
That’s because Representatives Amodei and Heck, who are both members of the Italian American Congressional Delegation, could play pivotalroles in getting Del Bianco the recognition he is long overdue. Del Bianco, who died on January 20, 1969 of accelerated silicosis, which he got from never having worn a mask while working as the chief carver of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial from 1933 through 1940, was an immigrant from the Italian Province of Pordenone who was tasked with giving the four presidential faces their “refinement of expression” by no less than Rushmore sculptor and designer Gutzon Borglum.
Borglum’s own letters in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress clearly attests to Del Bianco’s importance. In one of these letters, dated July 30, 1935, Borglum specifically refers to him as the chief carver.
But that’s not enough to satisfy the folks at the National Parks Service (NPS), which is a branch of the United States Department of the Interior.
“I have seen the letter in which Borglum refers to Del Bianco as chief carver,” Maureen McGee Ballinger, of the NPS, reportedly said recently. “But I consider Gutzon Borglum the chief carver.” Del Bianco? He was just one of the workers under Borglum, says the NPS.
The policy of the Parks Service is that all 400 individuals who worked at the monument from 1927 through 1941 receive the same credit, irrespective of their jobs. While that’s very egalitarian, it also presupposes that the man who ran the elevator lift was as important as Del Bianco.
The Parks Service is clearly dropping the ball here. They could be telling this great narrative about an Italian American immigrant who in 1929 became a citizen of this country who was the chief carver on what is arguably the most iconic landmark in this country. Instead, the Park Service continues to recognize only Borglum for his work at
the monument Listen, nobody is asking anyone to forget Gutzon Borglum. Without him, there would be no Mount Rushmore. But the Park Service doesn’t have any formal rules or regulations in place about the monument. This
isn’t the Internal Revenue Service, which has tax codes aplenty.
Ballinger is making a completely arbitrary and capricious decision as to the reason the agency is not recognizing Del Bianco as the chief carver.
In my opinion, there simply is no legitimate reason not to give Del Bianco the credit he so richly deserves.
Unless of course you purposely want to antagonize the fourth largest ethnic group in this country. That’s right. There are 18 million Italian Americans in this country, including the 173,000 who live in Nevada, who would puff up their chests with pride if they found out that one of their own had served as the chief carver on this world renowned sculpture. After all, if working at Mount Rushmore isn’t the realization of the American dream for an immigrant to these shores,
So, while Elvis may have indeed left the building, I hope Interior Secretary Sally Jewell remembers that it’s time at last to finally remedy this injustice once and for all. Because the truth is like the sun.
Douglas J. Gladstone’s book “Carving a Niche for Himself; The Untold Story of Luigi Del Bianco and Mount Rushmore,” was published by Bordighera Press and is sold nationwide by Small Press Distribution.