Nick Clifford, who was said to be the last living worker who helped construct Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota, died on Saturday in Rapid City, S.D. He was 98.
His wife, Carolyn Clifford, confirmed the death, at a hospice facility. He lived in Keystone, S.D., about 20 miles southwest of Rapid City and about 4 miles from Mount Rushmore.
At 17, Mr. Clifford was the youngest worker hired to work at Mount Rushmore, where the faces of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln were carved. He operated a winch that carried workers up and down its face, rising 5,725 feet. He also drilled holes for dynamite.
Mr. Clifford had known nothing about carving a mountain when Mount Rushmore’s sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, hired him in 1938. Mr. Borglum and his son, Lincoln, had decided to field a baseball team and recruited Mr. Clifford, an experienced pitcher and right fielder, to play for it, The Rapid City Journal reported.
“As long as they were hiring men,” the paper wrote in its obituary, “they thought they might as well hire some good ballplayers.”
Mr. Clifford worked on Mount Rushmore from 1938-40, earning 55 cents an hour (the equivalent of about $10 today). Almost 400 men and a few women worked on the memorial from 1927 to 1941.
Donald Leo Clifford, who was known as Nick, was born on July 5, 1921, in Pierre, S.D., the capital, to Francis and Margaret (Stangle) Clifford, The Journal said. His father worked in a sawmill and later as a miner, moving the family to Rapid City when Nick was 2 and later to Keystone to take jobs.
“After two years, he left and I never saw him again until I was 21,” Mr. Clifford told The Journal in 2016. “He left my mother with five kids, no money, no house.” His mother took in laundry to feed the family.
Mr. Clifford joined the Army Air Forces and served in Europe during World War II. He had two daughters and a son. In later years he operated laundry and dry-cleaning businesses and ran the Sylvan Lake Lodge in Custer State Park in the Black Hills, The Journal said.
Mr. Clifford wrote his story in a book, “Mount Rushmore Q&A,” published in 2004. He often signed copies at the memorial’s gift shop. The site, a national park, draws about three million visitors a year.
“I feel like Mount Rushmore was the greatest thing with which I was ever involved,” Clifford said in the 2016 interview. “It tells a story that will never go away — the story of how America was made and the men who helped make it what it is today.”
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