Q. David Bowers
The Stone Mountain Confederate Monumental Association voted to fire Borglum and to hire another sculptor (for $15,000 per year) to finish Borglum's work. On February 25, 1925, Borglum was discharged. A litany of accusations against the sculptor was recited, and the incident soon developed into a brouhaha spread across national newspaper headlines. Borglum had tarried in his work, had neglected its management, had been diverted by a new project in South Dakota (the Mount Rushmore sculpture group was in its planning stages), had a "lust for money," and had performed poorly according to his employers.
Desiring that no second-rate substitute sculptor finish his grand work, which if done poorly would still be known as Borglum's design, the artist smashed the models for the sculptures and destroyed all copies of the plans he could find. Borglum then fled to North Carolina, leaving behind several indictments, warrants for his arrest, and lawsuits. Ironically, of the various figures contemplated for carving on Stone Mountain, only Lee and Jackson had neared completion by Borglum-the same two men who appeared on the obverse of the commemorative half dollar. Charges and countercharges dominated newspaper columns for the next several days.
A fair evaluation of the situation may be that Borglum, who was hired to do the sculpting, overstepped his bounds by becoming involved in publicity, financing, politics, and management while, at the same time, continually understating the costs involved in completing the project and chastising anyone who dared question anything he did. Meanwhile the Association had little tolerance for Borglum's artistic temperament and knew little about the problems associated with carving in stone, whereas its president saw the incoming funds as an opportunity for lavish spending in the pursuit of his personal pleasures.
Augustus H. Lukeman Replaces Borglum
To take Borglum's place, a few weeks later the Association hired Augustus H. Lukeman, a sculptor of renown. (In 1934 Augustus H. Lukeman would become known numismatically as the designer of the Boone Bicentennial commemorative half dollar.) As first order of business Lukeman blasted away Borglum's head of General Lee and other work and began to replace it with his own Stone Mountain Memorial concept. New brochures were issued in connection with the project, and although dimensions of the project and cost estimates differed from those given in print earlier, the grand concept of carving the figures, the Memorial Hall, and the Amphitheater remained essentially intact. Unlike Borglum, Lukeman was willing to answer to many masters, and he adopted numerous suggestions made by Association officers. The resultant work on Stone Mountain was less than satisfactory, and, in any event, it ended in 1928 when there were no more funds. As the work had not been completed within the 12 years specified in the original donation documents, Stone Mountain reverted to its earlier owners, the Venable family.
Marketing the Coins
In the meantime to sell as many as possible of the five million coins authorized to be struck, a heroic marketing task faced the Stone Mountain Confederate Monumental Association. Harvey Hill, a professional promoter, was hired to help, and during the next year many gimmicks were devised. Word of various sales methods and promotions reached Borglum in exile, who in a letter written on June 15, 1925, to Preston Arkwright, Esq., chairman of the Coin Committee, Atlanta, Georgia, stated that an offer of $2,500,000 in the form of a loan had been made earlier by a Southern man who desired to underwrite the entire coin issue. Apparently, Borglum hoped that Arkwright would check into the current status of this.
Borglum went on to tell Arkwright that the distribution of the coin had been planned incorrectly, noting in part:
"In my circle around the country I've made it a business to get the pulse of the public-the public man and the banker and I find this answer very common: 'The premium value of the coin is gone, Mr. Borglum.' Who is going to answer for the waste of this national coin? You have failed America and she has become silent. You can't interest her by more camouflage. Your coin group has made a mistake in not understanding the psychology, that it was the strong forceful presentation of fact which sold the idea to the world. Of course if they had ever understood they would not have done what they did. The Memorial is the patriotic expression. The coin is not. The 68th Congress did not strike a coin to the patriots of the South; it struck a coin to the valor, integrity, and character of its people and its patriots. I did not humbug [Senator Henry Cabot] Lodge when I got him to start the coin, nor did I deceive [Senator Reed] Smoot or [Secretary of the Treasury Andrew] Mellon, nor the President [Coolidge]. The fine simple truth outsells everything.
"It is terribly significant that six months ago the outside world urged us to ask five dollars for the coin, (Sen. Peter Norbeck was visited in Washington by Borglum in January 1925, at which time the sculptor suggested that if the price were raised to $5, then $22.5 million profit would be realized if five million coins were sold, thus permitting the Stone Mountain site for the project to be expanded from 22 acres to a huge park of 10,000 acres (Reference: The Carving of Mount Rushmore, by Rex Alan Smith, p. 81).)and today you have to herd your own committee together and artificially pad by underwriting the local sale to deceive the public into giving a dollar. Yet what was possible six months ago is still possible, but every hour makes the labor more and more difficult. I want the coin's sale to be 100% for the purpose for which it was struck. (The funds were originally intended to go toward the carving of the Memorial, but by this time most of the money had been spent on administrative expenses, as noted.) When you get that fact before Southern people you will put back the coin's monetary value, and with guarantees the premium would return. At this hour you have lost all profit in the entire North and West, and the committee is powerless to recover either. Confidence is utterly gone and nothing but the restoration of the original plans, together with my endorsement of the plan, will restore it. Can't you see that?
"You have fixed the first days of July for the distribution of the coins. I have been told the amount of cash in hand and the amount of orders and bank allotments. It seems to me the most heroic actions should be taken immediately to change completely the general situation and stop the inevitable breakdown that must follow the returns. You men of courage and common sense have got to get together and find some way to prevent failure and prevent it now, or accept the complete responsibility for the collapse of Atlanta's bluff, for your committee-as the whole world knows-has played one colossal bluff. Yet only pettiness on my part could make me wish to see all you fail as you ultimately will in two weeks, no matter how you pad the returns. I don't want the feelings to exist in Atlanta which failure is bound to leave. On the other hand I cannot and will not communicate with the committee; they closed that door by injunction and nobody is discourteous enough to ask this of me. I was about to say my loyal friends would oppose this letter, but I am acting my own motion. I may add no relations with the committee are necessary at this time.