Q. David Bowers
More so than any monumental CIVIC sculpture before or since, the Stone Mountain Memorial was embroiled in controversy. After work on blasting away the rock began in 1923, Borglum spent most of his time in his Stamford studio, communicating regularly with his supervisors at the Georgia site but visiting there only at widely spaced intervals. This, according to Borglum, was standard procedure, as the plans and models for the carvings were nearly completed, and all he had to do was check occasionally to be sure that the workmen, who were functionaries rather than artists, were adhering to his instructions.
Some members of the Stone Mountain Confederate Monumental Association felt that Borglum should be present continuously at the site and went so far as to suggest the hiring of an associate sculptor who, presumably, would remain in residence at Stone Mountain continuously. Borglum was easily angered, and through-out 1924 he continually sparred with Association members on matters of procedure, money, and just about everything else.
In the meantime, he put his heart into creating models for a commemorative coin that would do justice to the Stone Mountain Memorial concept. Some observers felt that he was spending so much time on the coin models that the stone sculpting was not being properly supervised. Borglum countered by saying that, if it had not been for him, there would be no Stone Mountain Memorial, nor would there be any half-dollar design, and that he was doing a superb job in every respect.
Seeking to find fault with a man they viewed as insubordinate and contentious, his detractors magnified small disputes into major incidents. Borglum loved publicity, newspaper writers liked him as an interview subject, and over a period of time his image in print was that of a gifted artist who was continually being hamstrung by Association members who were more concerned with monetary details than with the grand memorial Borglum was creating for the nation.
Borglum subsequently made several changes to the obverse, but these, too, were rejected. Fault was found with the horses' legs, the feathers on the feet of the eagle, and other features, salient as well as subtle ones. After several other changes (totaling nine in all), during the course of which the reference to Harding was eliminated, Fraser grudgingly approved the plaster coin models on October 10th, noting that they were barely passable. From the artist's models the dies were created by the Medallic Art Company of New York. In its final form the obverse was dominated by equestrian figures of Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. ("Stonewall") Jackson. The reverse illustrated an eagle perched on a mountain, with an inscription: MEMORIAL / TO THE VALOR / OF THE SOLDIER / OF THE SOUTH.
An internal memorandum from Gutzon Borglum and Dave Webb (executive secretary of the Association), datelined New Orleans, Louisiana, January 9, 1925, discussed aspects of financing the "Federal Confederate" or "Memorial half dollar," as Borglum called it. The six-part plan devised by Borglum and Webb for the distribution of the commemorative coins is quoted herewith:
"(1) The coin should be distributed by the Stone Mountain Memorial Association or direct agents working within close physical contact.
"(2) The coin should be sold to the public first as a symbol of national fraternity and union and as a tribute to Southern soldiers and other purposes of the coin.
"(3) The coin is to be accepted as a token of the common brotherhood that joins us all in one union.
"(4) That no effort shall be spared by the committee to promote that sentiment. "(5) That ways and means shall be developed by which the complete success of the above purposes could be carried out.
"(6) That at least 500,000 coins should be placed at the disposition of the organization and the Memorial Association, and that all profit from the coin would go to the building of the memorial."
Production and Distribution of the Coins
The first Stone Mountain Memorial commemorative half dollars were struck in Philadelphia on January 21, 1925, to mark the 101st anniversary of General Stonewall Jackson's birth. One thousand pieces were produced on a medal press and placed into sequentially numbered paper envelopes. In attendance at the ceremony were Gutzon Borglum and officials of the Stone Mountain Confederate Monumental Association. The first coin struck was later mounted on a display plate made from native Georgia gold and presented to President Calvin Coolidge, who had displayed interest in the Stone Mountain Memorial project since first learning about it in 1923. (In a letter dated January 5, 1925, to Samuel H. Venable, Borglum stated President Calvin Coolidge was quite concerned with the progress of the Stone Mountain Memorial and was "very anxious that the happiest relations shall be maintained, and that the best interest and results for the South first and the whole country next shall complete what we have begun.")
The second coin was given to Secretary of the Treasury Andrew W. Mellon. Other coins went to politicians, distinguished Southern veterans, and other luminaries, leaving 947 coins earmarked for those who rendered service to the Stone Mountain Memorial, presumably major donors.
From that point through March 2,314,709 half dollars were minted, an immense quantity, but still less than half of the five million authorized. The public was informed that nationwide distribution would begin on July 3, 1925, a postponement from the original time of May 1st.
In the meantime things were not well with the Stone Mountain Confederate Monumental Association. In anticipation of millions of dollars pouring in from public donations and the sale of commemorative coins, Hollins N. Randolph, president of the Association, was spending lavishly at Association expense. As money came in, relatively little of it went toward carving the Memorial. Borglum, whose invoices to the Association had only been partially paid, was incensed with this extravagance and did not hesitate to tell anyone who would listen. When the Association proposed hiring an associate sculptor and stated its intention (later rescinded) to restrict the Memorial just to the carving of the central figures-rather than the panorama, Memorial Hall, and Amphitheater Borglum proposed-that was the straw that broke the camel's back. Borglum traveled to Washington, D.C. to hold a press conference (on February 21st) and to inform members of Congress that the Association had squandered its funds and had violated its agreements with him. Moreover, by letter he requested President Coolidge to postpone the distribution of the commemorative half dollars until the situation was resolved.