Four presidents are probably the best known faces of Rapid City – Washington, Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and Lincoln. The four faces make up Mount Rushmore. But, the city has added to the presidents’ popularity. Rapid City’s downtown is home to the “City of Presidents” sculpture walk.
The self-guided tour has a statue of each person who has served as President of the United States. The walk features 42 statues, though we are currently on our 44th president. Grover Cleveland served twice as president, but wasn’t re-elected after his first term. He won the 1884 and 1892 elections, thus serving as the 22nd and 24th president.
President Obama’s sculpture will be unveiled once he completes his second term. President Obama is the 44th president.
The sculpture walk started in 2000, with President Abraham Lincoln being unveiled as the first statue. The project unveiled four statues a year until 2010, when Presidents Arthur, Clinton and George W. Bush were completed.
The downtown area has 80 corners available for statues, so the project has plenty of space to grow over time, as statues will be unveiled every 4-8 years, depending on a president’s time in office.
The statues were randomly positioned around downtown. They also represent something that president was known for. President Gerald Ford – an Omaha native – was known for his affection for the family dog. So the dog, Liberty, is located next to him.
Ford was the only person to serve as Vice President and President without being elected. He was nominated by President Richard Nixon to replace Spiro Agnew after the VP had been indicted on corruption charges in the early 1970s. The Senate approved his nomination, so Ford became Vice President. He then replaced Nixon in 1974 after he resigned rather than face impeachment for his role in the cover-up of the Watergate wiretapping of the Democratic Party headquarters. Ford lost the 1976 election to Jimmy Carter.
Carter is featured as waving to the people. He came across as folksy and down to earth, like a regular guy serving as president. He didn’t have a successful term in office, as inflation was high, national morale was low following the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. His administration saw the downfall of the Iran government in 1979, when several Americans were taken hostage. They were released in January 1981. He lost his re-election bid in 1980 to Ronald Reagan.
However, he won the Nobel Peace Prize for brokering an actual peace accord in the Middle East between Israel and Egypt. However, that has eventually slipped away due to modern political issues in the region.
Carter enjoyed a lot of post-presidency success. He has worked around the world in helping the poor and homeless. He has worked with groups to monitor elections around the world to ensure they are conducted fairly and safely.
Carter, 91, is currently undergoing treatment for brain cancer.
Reagan, who served two terms from 1981 to 1989, had a lot of charisma (he was an actor, after all) and it helped rebuild the nation’s morale and image. In March 1981, an assassination attempt failed, but Reagan was shot. Aides and guards were wounded worse than the president.
Reagan’s most successful victory may have been the start of the downfall of the Soviet Union. The Soviets (aka Russians) were Americans’ deadliest enemy. Reagan developed a strong relationship with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. As the Soviet Union developed a more open society under Gorbachev, it eventually led to the fall of the Eastern Bloc during President George HW Bush’s administration in the late 1980s. The Berlin Wall (which Rapid City has a section of on display) fell as a symbolic end to the communist rule in Europe.
Reagan’s statue is a popular one along the walk. It features the President in a cowboy hat, which he often wore at his California ranch.
Earlier presidents on display along the sculpture walk include Calvin Coolidge. Coolidge is featured waving a Stetson hat next to a saddle. The original saddle was made for the President by Bud Duhamel of Rapid City.
President William McKinley was the 25th President, serving 1897-1901. He was shot twice and died. He was succeeded by Theodore Roosevelt. McKinley was known for annexing Hawaii as a territory and adding the United States to the Gold Standard.
Teddy Roosevelt served as President 1901-09. He took on big companies, forcing the break-ups of several monopolies that he believed would thwart the growth of the United States. Roosevelt lived in North Dakota for a few years before returning east and becoming New York’s governor, as well as a military leader.
Speaking of Roosevelt, who can forget FDR? President Franklin D. Roosevelt (he and Teddy were cousins) oversaw the nation during the Great Depression and much of World War II. His speech following the attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941 is epic. “December 7th, a day which will live in infamy…” The US soon entered the war.
Roosevelt’s statue is featured standing behind a podium. The president had polio as a child and it left him partially unable to walk. He used leg braces and a cane to walk with. Standing behind a podium hid the braces, which he believed would be seen as a weakness.
In looking at a few of my all-time favorite presidents, John Kennedy’s statue is shown holding hands with his son, John Jr. JFK served as president 1961-63, when he was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.
The World War II hero and former Massachusetts senator had an active administration for his short time in office – launching the space program with the goal of reaching the moon by the end of the 1960s, achieving Civil Rights, increasing the minimum wage, improving Social Security, as well as creating the Peace Corps.
George Washington was the nation’s first President. He was a military hero during the Revolutionary War in the 1770s. After being unanimously elected by the country’s electors, Washington was the only president to be sworn into office in two cities – New York and Philadelphia.
In 1885, his birthday was named a federal holiday. It eventually enjoined with Lincoln’s birthday, resulting in Presidents’ Day in February. I love how Washington’s statue is positioned outside Starbucks – one of my favorite presidents meets one of my favorite coffee shops.
My all-time favorite President is Abraham Lincoln. The 16th President is featured spending time with one of his sons. Lincoln was assassinated shortly after the Civil War ended in April 1865.
Lincoln’s administration saw the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves. He led the effort to create the Homestead Act, giving away land for development (with certain strict requirements for that development). His main accomplishment likely was holding the nation together during the Civil War. The Union defeated the Confederacy, reuniting the states.
As you walk around downtown, challenge yourself on your knowledge of that particular president when you visit a statue. It could be informative and fun.
Regardless, a visit to the City of Presidents sculpture walk should be on everyone’s must-do list when visiting Rapid City.
For more information on the sculptures or downtown Rapid City, please visit www.visitrapidcity.com.