Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The City of Presidents, and The Art Alley

Rapid City's Main Street Square
Rapid City, South Dakota, prides itself as being the most patriotic city in the United States.  Why?  Because it is the only location in the world where all 42 United States presidents can be seen in life-size bronze statues.

So, we decided to go and see for ourself.

We started our walking tour of the historic downtown area at the Main Street Square.  One of the presidential statues is displayed on nearly every corner of the downtown district, along with benches for resting and viewing.  The 43rd statue, President Obama, will be on display when he has completed his term of office.

We picked up a walking tour guide, and from it we learned a few suggestion of what to notice about each of the statues. Here are some of the ones we found most interesting.

 President Gerald Ford
President Gerald Ford (1974-1977) was a man of strong athletic abilities, having played football for the University of Michigan.  Standing over six feet tall, he was a well-built man with a comfortable demeanor.  He is shown here with his golden retriever, Liberty, who frequently shared the Oval Office with him.

President Thomas Jefferson
President Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) was the most gifted writer of his time.  He is shown here during the most important segment of our American history, the writing of the Declaration of Independence.  Jefferson appears to be looking away from the document, as if looking to the future.

If one looks closely, the Declaration is shown in its total composition on this statue.

President James Monroe
President James Monroe (1817-1825) was a man of tall stature, standing over six feet tall.  Monroe was the only president to be re-elected without competition.  He was known to be a very cordial man, a man of charming demeanor who always carried a cane.  He is shown tipping his top hat, wishing passers by a "good day."  He is believed to have begun the politician's custom of kissing babies to charm his constituents.

President George Washington
Bob and George

President George Washington's (1789-1797) statue portrays him as a general in full military dress attire.  Before he was known as a politician and, subsequently, President of the United States, he was a military commander.  At 6' 2", Washington was a tall man for this time in history and, like all the other presidential statues, is shown as life size.  Depicted in a prideful military stature, he is shown at possibly his finest hour.  Bob is tall, too.

President Ronald Reagan
The sculptor chose to depict Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) in western attire during a time that he enjoyed the most, working on his ranch.  Reagan was a man of strong body and strong will who enjoyed the physical labor on his ranch.  This activity gave him respite from the rigors of the presidency.  On the announcement of the death of President Reagan, a spontaneous public memorial of ribbons, balloons, and jelly beans from local residents completely surrounded the statue.

President George Herbert Walker Bush
President George Bush's (1989-1993) administration was extensively involved in an international arena, so it seems fitting that he is presented standing next to a world globe.  It is interesting to note that President George Bush is standing across the street from President John Adams.  They are the only two presidents to have sons who also served as presidents of the United States.

President Calvin Coolidge
The statue of President Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929) is the only site-specific presidential statue in The City of Presidents project.  His statue is opposite the Main Street Square, and Coolidge appears to be waving a welcome to Rapid City visitors.  He is shown with his big Stetson hat and cowboy boots (although no self-respecting South Dakota cowboy would tuck his pants in his boot tops), and is standing next to a saddle that was made especially for him by a local saddle maker.  The saddle maker's family still resides in Rapid City.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
The artist chose to depict President Franklin Roosevelt (1933-1945) as he stood and presented himself to the nation during a time when he was suffering from the effects of polio.  The statue shows just a hint of the leg braces worn by the president below his trouser cuffs.  Roosevelt's stance shows him gripping the podium to steady himself because of his difficulty in standing.  The artist wanted to show Roosevelt's determination to project the image of the strength and the will of the man despite his physical restraints.  The sheer strength of his hands on the platform shows the fortitude of this popular president.  He is shown delivering his famous "day which will live in infamy" speech.

President Martin Van Buren
President Martin Van Buren (1837-1841) is seated on a bench, with his local newspaper, the Kinderhook, on his lap.  At 5' 6", plump in figure and always elegantly dressed, his colleagues called him "The Little Magician."  Van Buren was probably the first of what we have now come to know as a true politician.  He was also called "Old Kinderhook" from which we get our saying, "OK," as he was perceived as usually being correct.  The sculptor placed him on a bench to allow interaction with the public, creating an opportunity for a photograph with one of our presidents.

President John F. Kennedy
The sculptor chose to show President John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) with his son, John Jr.  He is handing his son one of John-John's favorite toys, an air fighter plane.  This moment in time takes place at the White House after the president is winding down following a cabinet meeting.  This is a very popular image of Kennedy during one of his happier moments with a member of his family.

Note:  Bob is the one who took this picture of President JFK, cutting off part of his head.  Bob has obviously inherited the cutting-off-the-heads-of-people-in-photos trait from his mother, who is an expert at it.

Note to self:  Take all pictures myself.

Between Main Street and St. Joseph's Streets, and between 5th and 6th Streets, we found an alley that took us by surprise.  Much of the town's power structure seems to be hidden in this alley, but that's not what caught our interest.  This alley is Art Alley, and we watched as locals were creating artwork that literally covers every inch of the space in this alley.  It seemed to be an area of sanctioned graffiti.  Interestingly, we were asked later by a guy on his bicycle if we knew where he could find Art Alley.  

Rapid City, South Dakota, certainly has its own very unique and interesting claims to fame.  

Tomorrow we'll begin exploring some of the surrounding areas and sites.  Just not the National Parks.  They're closed.


  1. We had a wonderful time here. When I did our post about the presidents, I did a little quiz. I showed some of the "not so familiar" presidents and ask the readers to name them. We got some very interesting guess.

  2. Thank you for the tour. I really enjoyed it. Your explanation of everything was supurb!!

  3. Great tour! I am pretty sure we did not see them all while we were there:) I may have missed a few on purpose!