Richard Cerasani has written a fascinating, engaging non-fiction book, Love Letters from Mount Rushmore: The Story of a Marriage, a Monument, and a Moment in History. Richard is probably better known as actor Richard Caine, who appeared in hundreds of commercials and spent three years as the villain, Bill Watson, on General Hospital.
In this interview conducted by email he talks about finding, in a trunk, love letters written from his dad to his mom while his dad was working on Mount Rushmore. Richard knew there was some connection between his dad and Mount Rushmore but had no idea how extensive it was… until he found the letters.
Mount Rushmore was sculpted by Danish-American Gutzon Borglum and his son, Lincoln Borglum.
Can you explain how you first heard of this story of your dad working on this project and why you decided to return to tell the story?
As a toddler, I was told by Mother that Daddy was far away working in South Dakota on Mount Rushmore. Of course, at one years old those words meant nothing to me. All I knew is that I missed my Daddy and when was he coming home?
Years later I learned that Mount Rushmore was, in its self, a very important part of American history, and my Dad had worked there! Only when I found an old steamer trunk in the families attic, and only after opening it, did I realize that it was full of family and American history. When I informed a staff supervisor at Mount Rushmore of what I had found, it was suggested that my family might consider donating all the letters and sculptured pieces to the historical sight. This will happen in the future after I learn all that is to be known.
Do you think your acting experience helped or hurt you working as an author of this book? How so?
My experience as an actor definitely helped me. Acting roles, for the most part, are about recognizing conflict, dealing with it, solving it, and then moving on to the conflict. That formula served me as an actor, and now as an author. That to me reflects the rhythm of life.
Why was Mount Rushmore never completed? What else had they planned that they were unable to get to?
Mount Rushmore was never completed because the money ran out. Our government, which partially subsidized the project, had now turned to helping Europe. Europe was facing the threat of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini with their plans against democracy. Gutzon Borglum’s creative idea was to have all four presidents developed at least to their waist, build a “Hall of Records” into the mountain, and to have a staircase that would allow citizens to go around the monument and the grounds.
There’s inevitably talk of putting up a new president, including some who, when polled, want Obama put up there. Do you have anyone you wish were added and/or removed?
New Presidents on the mount are always a “chatter”, but that will never happen. The granite mountain does not have the necessary space to carve another president. Even Thomas Jefferson had to be moved because of the conditions of the existing granite.
What can modern couples learn from your parents and their experiences?
What true heroes are about and how people struggled to deal with the Great Depression up until WW II. During this period of time there was no safety net provided by the U.S. Government. Families helped solve problems, where possible.
Did you parents ever talk about Mount Rushmore? What did they say?
My parents did not talk about Mount Rushmore. I learned about their life through this trunk.
Your parents passed away before you found the letters. What do you think they would have said to you about the letters and the book?
I can only speculate on this question. Both parents were modest people and spent their life helping others: Dad teaching, and Mother going into the Peace Corp at 70, and then again at 80.
What was the biggest surprise as you researched this book?
That Mother was pregnant when Dad left for Mount Rushmore, and during her time away she had a miscarriage. I would have had another sibling… possibly, a sister. If not for their letters and diaries I would not have known this.
What does Mount Rushmore nearing its 75th anniversary mean to America today?
A chance to celebrate this Shrine of Democracy, and learn more of what a lucky nation we are!
Do you have plans to write other books? What all do you have planned?
Yes, I would like to cover more in depth the woman’s role along side as a successful partnership. The image I would use would be that of a teeter totter. Maybe I’ll call it “Love Letters To Mount Rushmore.”
I have started research on another book about The Borglum’s. Maybe it will be called, ”The Untold Story”.