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Donald Clifford, Mount Rushmore Worker, Dies At 98

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Donald Clifford of Keystone, S.D., died on Saturday at the age of 98.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Even if you'd never heard of Clifford, you've likely heard of his work. His legacy is Mount Rushmore.

INSKEEP: Oh, yeah. Millions have seen the giant faces of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. Between 1927 and 1941, somebody had to climb up that mountain to carve them.

MARTIN: And Nick Clifford, as his friends called him, was one of those somebodies, the last living worker on the project.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD CLIFFORD: They're all gone now. I'm the last one.

INSKEEP: The last one, as he told KOTA-TV. Now, in 1938, he was the youngest worker hired for this giant project. He was 17.

MARTIN: He was part of a crew of hundreds who moved up and down the mountain and drilled holes for dynamite. In his later years, Clifford greeted visitors to the monument.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLIFFORD: It makes me feel really good that all those people come, and I get to talk to them and tell them the story about Mount Rushmore.

INSKEEP: Clifford and his wife Carolyn published a book about his experiences, and they made regular appearances at the landmark's gift shop.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CAROLYN: He's been a wonderful man. He's very kind and generous and somewhat shy. You wouldn't know that since he's in the public, but he enjoys what he's doing a lot.

MARTIN: We should note the history around the Mount Rushmore Memorial is complicated. It was built in the South Dakota Black Hills - sacred native land.

INSKEEP: But for Clifford, remembering those four presidents whose faces are on the side of the mountain was a point of pride. The greatest thing, he said, with which I was ever involved.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEAS OF YEARS' "LIGHTHOUSE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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