Landmarks in memoriam

Mount Rushmore public cafeteria
A past love of mine spent a couple summers working at Mt Rushmore at the visitor’s center. She longed for me to see it and eventually she took me there. I had already formed a vivid image of her youthful days there, serving food to plaid-clad tourists, taking her breaks sunning on the rocks between the ponderosa, chasing boys with her friends, away from home at this summer camp for Dakota high-schoolers off soon to college and new autonomous lives.

Her farm country heritage was a mystery to me, but her descriptions of the Black Hills and Mt Rushmore I could see clearly. When we finally made it there, the atmosphere was as charming as I had envisioned, aided too by preconceptions of the familiar dark wood trimmings of a US National Park with Yogi Bear. The restaurant really was a cafeteria, the workers dressed in white like nurses and the food was like they served in school. Except that visitors would carry their fiberglass trays to tables beneath huge plate glass windows with a view of the granite presidential face of Mt Rushmore.

Years later I would recognize the unchanged lunch room and viewing deck as filmed in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Nothwest. I could watch that scene and recollect our visit, especially the tour Kim gave me through the staff-only area, climbing paths around the workers’ dormitories which led us to the swimming hole. We watched squirrels and bears -I mean birds- and recalled her earlier days. She might have been thinking of earlier beaus, what would it have mattered? Now my recollections are of recollections.

Now many years later, another love asks me if revisiting the site of a cherished memory would diminish it. I said no, and I still believe it, but I have to add one caveat. It’s not that you erase one memory with another, you jeopardize the memory tape itself.

I thus revisited Mt Rushmore, without of course my making any todo about a past significance, and I came away changed and less happy because the visitors center is gone.

Well, it’s changed, the wooden building is replaced by a bigger, improved center of granite, very attractive and swarming with more people, the grounds are now entirely covered in cement, comprising amphitheater, museum, Grecian monument and vast parking structures. No amount of smooching with a new love would have effaced my earlier nostalgia, but the physical anchor of my memory is broken away. It’s like the difference of a grandparent passed on, being cremated versus interred. You can visit your loved one in a cemetery, even if only in your mind, because you know where you can find them, still there.

My Mt Rushmore in not “there” anymore. I retain my memories, themselves of memories, but they have become intangible.

The same was done to our Garden of the Gods. We used to be able to goof off on its roads and paths, now they are paved and redirected into an uncompromising giant roundabout. And there’s now the giant visitors center, with its big window and stepped-back view, replacing the Hidden Inn which used to nestle right against the rocks.

In fact, I took a favorite photograph of a girl I liked very much on the weathered railing of the Hidden Inn looking out on the upended rock formation extending along the Front Range. But the historic inn is no more, just a few cuts into the red stone, now just a point-of-interest on a marker. At least the original foundation was meticulously removed, not buried under concrete. I lament never having kissed that girl, and I guess now the opportunity seems all the more gone.

Eric Verlo

About Eric Verlo

On sabbatical
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1 Response to Landmarks in memoriam

  1. Avatar Marie Walden says:

    It’s sad, isn’t it? Everything has become a commodity, not valued for its own sake, but for personal gain. Lunch for sale. Lunchroom for sale. Buy a ticket to nature’s bounty. In our consumer culture, even love has been tainted. What was mysterious and ephemeral has become coldly rational.

    Alas and alack.

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