In this memoir, a man details his efforts to win recognition for his grandfather’s contributions to the construction of Mount Rushmore.
Del Bianco (In the Shadow of the Mountain, 2012) enjoyed an especially tight bond with his grandfather Luigi Del Bianco, a talented sculptor and carver. The author’s grandfather worked as the chief carver on the Mount Rushmore project under the famous designer, Gutzon Borglum, the only worker to have such an elevated distinction. But when an authoritative guide on Mount Rushmore was published in 1985, the author’s grandfather wasn’t even mentioned. Del Bianco was inspired to research his grandfather’s participation with the help of his uncle Caesar Del Bianco, who wrote to Lincoln Borglum, the designer’s son, for more information, correspondence that confirmed the significance of the role the author’s grandfather played. Del Bianco was encouraged by another author who wrote about Mount Rushmore to travel to the Library of Congress and inspect the “Borglum Papers,” a massive storehouse of correspondence Borglum wrote, a valuable historical resource. The author traveled to Mount Rushmore and tirelessly lobbied the site’s administrators to provide some official recognition of his grandfather’s achievement. The remembrance roughly bifurcates into two storylines—Del Bianco’s quest to achieve an official acknowledgement of his grandfather’s work and to create a biography of the man, an Italian immigrant who lived a remarkably eventful life. Born in 1892 aboard a ship sailing off the coast of France, he moved to the United States in 1908 at 17. He returned to Italy in 1915 to fight in World War I, and when he re-entered the United States, a friend introduced him to both Borglum and his future wife, Nicoletta.
Del Bianco doggedly tracks down every available shred of information about his grandfather with the meticulousness of a forensic accountant. What emerges is not only an extraordinary biography, and an astute history of Mount Rushmore’s construction, but also an endearing account of a man’s loving homage to his grandfather. The author produced and starred in a one-man show about his grandfather, an act he was invited to perform at Mount Rushmore for a Fourth of July celebration. Del Bianco’s prose is clear and buoyant. It’s easy to be drawn into his infectious enthusiasm for the subject matter. Also, he provides an instructive technical analysis of the construction of Mount Rushmore. The recollection unfolds like a suspenseful drama, keeping the reader waiting to share the author’s discoveries and see if his grandfather is eventually accorded recognition for his work. The book includes old photographs detailing the author’s travels, his grandfather’s life, and Mount Rushmore and features pertinent documents and correspondence. Though a personal memoir, the information about Mount Rushmore should appeal to a wide audience, which will likely include those interested in either American history or sculpture.
An entertaining, inspiring memoir that ably captures an important slice of American history.