Downtown Rapid City challenged notions I held of small town middle America. At the heart of historic downtown Rapid City, visitors are greeted by the City of Presidents, a series of life-size bronze statues of our nation’s past presidents along the city’s streets and sidewalks. I discovered the free art display while enjoying downtown shopping. A tour around downtown Rapid City is a tour through America’s history, with a president on every corner and stories of the Lakota told through commemorative plaques and statues.
Part of the Rapid City Historic District Tour, the City of Presidents project began in 2000 to honor the legacy of the American presidency. I find it impressive that each of the sculptures is 100% privately funded, and the pattern of placement was chosen to maintain a coherent structure and eliminate any sense of favoritism or political gain. (To view a map click here: http://presidentsrc.com/map.html)
Twelfth President. Zachary Taylor was not known for his education and he had no political background. He was elected solely on his reputation as a war hero. As such, his short time in office was not one full of major accomplishments.
Twenty-Eighth President. Woodrow Wilson played a huge role in determining if and when America would get involved in World War I. One of the first events of Wilson’s presidency was the passage of the Underwood Tariff. This reduced tariff rates from 41 to 27%. It also created the first federal income tax after the passage of the 16th Amendment. During Woodrow Wilson’s presidency women received the right to vote with the passing of the 19th Amendment, the Federal Reserve System was established, income tax was initiated with the birth of the Internal Revenue System, World War I broke out in Europe between 1914 and 1918, sheep grazed on the White House lawn to help the Red Cross raise wool for the war effort and the national observance of Mother’s Day was established.
During McKinley’s time in office, Hawaii was annexed. McKinley was shot two times by anarchist Leon Czolgosz while the president was visiting the Pan-American Exhibit in Buffalo, New York minutes after giving the lucky scarlet carnation from his lapel to a young girl who wanted a souvenir. To commemorate his tragic death, the sculptor gave him a red carnation.
Twenty-Seventh President. William Howard Taft holds a unique position in American political history. He is the only president who also served on the U.S. Supreme Court. He was America’s 27th president as well as the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He was the first president to throw out the opening pitch of the major league season. The artist, Lee Leuning, shows him, ever the competitor, shaking off the catcher’s sign and preparing to throw the “heater”.
Ninth President. When Harrison took office, he gave the longest inaugural address ever talking for one hour and 40 minutes. It was delivered in the cold during the month of March. He then got caught in the rain and in the end came down with a cold. His illness got worse until he finally died on April 4, 1841. He only served one month, from March 4 until April 4, 1841. He was the first president to die in office.
Twenty-Ninth President. President Harding’s time in office was marked by some major scandals. Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall secretly sold the right to oil reserves in Teapot Dome, Wyoming to a private company in exchange for $308,000 and some cattle. Other officials under Harding were also implicated or convicted of bribery, fraud, conspiracy, and other forms of wrongdoing. Harding died before the events affected his presidency.
Eighteenth President. Grant is considered to be one of the worst presidents in America’s history. His time in office was marked by major scandals. Grant as president accepted handsome presents from admirers. Worse, he allowed himself to be seen with two speculators, Jay Gould and James Fisk. When Grant realized their scheme to corner the market in gold, he authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to sell enough gold to wreck their plans, but the speculation had already wrought havoc with business. This was the cause of “Black Friday”.
Third President. In 1803, Jefferson purchased the Louisiana territory from France for $15 million. This is considered the most important act of his administration. He sent Lewis and Clark on their famous expedition to explore the new territory. Jefferson was the most gifted writer of his time and is displayed during the most important event of American History; the writing of the Declaration of Independence.
Twenty-Sixth President. Roosevelt was a fiery individualist who embodied American culture of the early 1900’s. His conservationism and willingness to take on big business are examples of why he is considered to be one of the better presidents. His progressive policies set the stage for important reforms of the 20th century.
Nineteenth President. When doing the recount, many Democratic ballots were ruled invalid in Florida and Louisiana. An investigative commission voted 8-7 along party lines to give all the electoral votes to Hayes allowing him to win against Tilden. Hayes began his administration with the Compromise of 1877 by which military occupation of the South ended. This helped satisfy Southerners who were upset over the results of the election.
Fortieth President. One of the most important events that occurred during Reagan’s administration was the growing relationship between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Reagan created a bond with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Thirty-Seventh President. While many important events occurred during Nixon’s administration including the end of the Vietnam War, his visit to China, and putting a man on the moon, his time was marred by the Watergate Scandal. Faith in the office of the presidency declined with the revelations of this event and the way that the press dealt with the office changed forever from this time on.
This sculpture represents hope for reconciliation, dignity and respect for all the human race.
Thirteenth President. Fillmore succeeded to the presidency upon Taylor’s death. Millard Fillmore established the White House library. Fillmore was a sullen, introverted man and the sculptor chose to depict him with an expression of slight annoyance as visitors interrupt his reading.
Eighth President. Van Buren’s administration began with “The Panic of 1837”, a depression that lasted until 1845. To combat this, Van Buren fought for an Independent Treasury to help ensure the safe deposit of funds. Texas applied for statehood after gaining independence in 1836. If admitted, it would have become another slave state which was opposed by the Northern states. Van Buren, wishing to help fight against sectional slavery issues, agreed with the North.
Thirty-Sixth President. Johnson took over as president after JFK’s Assassination. Johnson escalated the war in Vietnam and eventually had to turn to peace when the U.S. was unable to achieve victory. He is also remembered for his Great Society policies where Medicare, Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1968 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were passed among other programs.
A Lakota grandmother placing a feather in grand-daughters hair.
Tenth President. Although John Tyler became our tenth president, it was not his first choice of careers. As a young man, Tyler dreamed and studied to become an accomplished concert violinist. In 1841, all the Cabinet resigned but Secretary of State Webster. A year later when Tyler vetoed a tariff bill, the first impeachment resolution against a president was introduced in the House of Representatives. Tyler had to operate as president without a party behind him.
Sixth President. During John Quincy Adams’ term, the Erie Canal Opened. One key event during this time was his role in arguing before the Supreme Court to free the slave mutineers aboard the Amistad. He died after having a stroke on the floor of the US House.
Thirty-Fifth President. His moral leadership of Civil Rights was an important part of the movement’s eventual success. Kennedy had a tough time getting many of his domestic programs through Congress. However, he did get an increased minimum wage, better Social Security benefits, and an urban renewal package passed. He created the Peace Corps and his goal to get to the moon by the end of the 60’s found overwhelming support. His assassination has taken on a mythic quality
Second President . As our second president, John Adams was known for his ability as a great orator. During Adams’ term, the Navy Department and Marine Corps were Created (1798), the Capital moved to Washington, D.C. (1800) and the Library of Congress was established (1800).
Thirty-Ninth President. Widely known as a peanut farmer, on Carter’s first day in office, he issued a pardon for all those who dodged the draft in the Vietnam War. On November 4, 1979, the U.S. embassy in Teheran, Iran was seized and 60 Americans were taken hostage. Fifty two of the hostages were not released until after his left office.
Eleventh President. James K. Polk increased the size of the United States more than any other president through the acquisition of California and New Mexico as a result of the Mexican-American War. He also claimed Oregon Territory after a treaty with England. He was a key figure in Manifest Destiny. He was also an extremely effective leader – considered to be the best one-term president.
Fifth President. Two major developments during Monroe’s presidency were the Missouri Compromise (1820) and the Monroe Doctrine (1823). He was known to be a very cordial man, a man of charming demeanor who always carried a cane. He is shown tipping his top hat wishing passers by a “good day.”
Madison wrote most of the U.S. Constitution at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. As the author of the Constitution, decisions made during his time as president were based on his interpretation of the document. He was well respected in his time for not only authoring the document but also administering it.
Twentieth President. Garfield was only in office for a little more than six months. The one major issue that he dealt with was an investigation of whether mail route contracts were being awarded fraudulently with tax money lining the pockets of those involved. Charles J. Guiteau, a mentally disturbed office seeker, shot President Garfield in the back, the wound from which he died.
Fifteenth President. The North and West were hit hard by an economic depression called “The Great Panic of 1857” but Buchanan took no action to help alleviate the depression. Buchanan is portrayed with hands held behind his back symbolizing timidity in the face of crisis.
Thirty-First President. Since President Hoover was a Quaker he did not take an oath of office, instead he affirmed his presidency. During his term, he approved the “Star-Spangled Banner” as our national anthem. Herbert Hoover was president during one of the worst economic disasters in America’s history. Hoover was one of two presidents who did not accept a salary for being president, instead donating his salary to charity.
Thirty-Third President. It was President Truman who made the final decision to use the atomic bombs on Japan to speed up the end of the World War II.
Twenty-Second & Twenty-Forth President. President Cleveland was the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms. In 1893, Cleveland forced the withdrawal of a treaty which would have annexed Hawaii because he felt that America was wrong in helping with the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani.
Thirty-Eighth President. Gerald Ford was never elected to be president or vice-president but instead took office upon the resignation first of Spiro Agnew and then of Richard Nixon. As president, Ford tried to calm earlier controversies by granting former President Nixon a full pardon. Gerald Ford survived two assassination attempts.
First President. Despite being a member of the Federalist Party, Washington was immensely popular as a war hero and was an obvious choice as the first president for both federalists and anti-federalists. He was unanimously elected by the 69 electors. Washington was the only president inaugurated in 2 cities – New York and Philadelphia. Washington did his own bookkeeping and recorded every penny of expense or profit.
Forty-Third President. Bush took office in January 2001 and by September 11, 2001; the whole world was focused on New York City and the Pentagon with the attacks by Al-Qaeda operatives that resulted in the deaths of over 2,900 people. This event changed Bush’s presidency forever. Bush ordered the invasion of Afghanistan and the overthrow of the Taliban which had been harboring Al-Qaeda training camps. An important education act during his term was the “No Child Left Behind Act” meant to improve public schools.
Forty-First President. During his term Bush faced a dramatically changing world, as the Cold War ended after 40 bitter years, the Communist empire broke up, and The Soviet Union ceased to exist; and reformist President Mikhail Gorbachev, whom Bush had supported, resigned. He sent troops into Kuwait to help fight Iraq and Saddam Hussein in the First Persian Gulf War.
Fourteenth President . Pierce was the first president to put a Christmas tree in the White House. One issue that caused a lot of criticism against Pierce was the Ostend Manifesto. This was a document published in the New York Herald which stated that if Spain was not willing to sell Cuba to the U.S., the United States would consider taking aggressive action to get it.
Thirty-Second President. Roosevelt’s terms as president were marked by bold moves to fight two of the largest threats to America and the world: the Great Depression and World War II. Also during Roosevelt’s term, the Social Security Act was created and prohibition was repealed. Roosevelt is the only U.S. president to have served more than two terms of presidency. And assisted in founding the March of Dimes.
Thirty-Fourth President. He was then named Supreme Allied Commander in charge of the D-Day invasion. Eisenhower’s willingness to send federal troops into Little Rock, Arkansas to ensure that local schools were desegregated was an important step in the Civil Rights movement.
Twenty-First President. Arthur succeeded Garfield upon his assassination. He was significant for two important pieces of legislation that occurred during his presidency. The Pendleton Civil Service Act, stipulating that government jobs should be awarded on the basis of merit, has had a long reaching positive impact while the Chinese Exclusion Act which allowed the U.S. to suspend immigration.
Thirtieth President. Coolidge is shown with his big Stetson hat and cowboy boots and is standing next to a saddle that was made especially for him by Rapid City saddle maker Bud Duhamel.
Forty-Second President. During the administration of Bill Clinton, the U.S. enjoyed more peace and economic well-being than at any time in its history. An important protective bill that passed in 1993 soon after taking office was the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Twenty-Third President. In 1890, Benjamin Harrison sponsored a tariff that required those wishing to import products to pay a 48% tax. This resulted in a rise of consumer prices. This was not a popular tariff.
Seventeenth President. Johnson became president after Lincoln’s death. During his presidency, Even though many saw it as folly at the time, it was truly an amazing investment in that it provided America with gold and oil while increasing the size of the United States drastically and removing Russian influence from the North American continent. He became the first president to be impeached while in office.
Seventh President. Andrew Jackson was the first “citizen-president” representing the common man. He believed strongly in preserving the union and in keeping too much power out of the hands of the wealthy.
Sixteenth President. Abraham Lincoln is considered by many scholars to have been the best president. He is credited with holding the Union together and leading the North to victory in the Civil War. Further, his actions and beliefs led to the emancipation of African-Americans from the bonds of slavery.ravel
This walk gave me an inside look of the personal affection Rapid City holds for the men who shaped this nation. An affection that reaches beyond Mount Rushmore. In fact, Rapid City has been honored with the designation “Most Patriotic Town in The United States” partly because of this fantastic city tour. Rapid City is worth the gas to get here.