Rapid City Northwest
"And what are we going to Rapid City for, Professor?" The early sixties classic movie, North by Northwest had Cary Grant asking the spymaster “Professor”, as they walked towards a Northwest Airlines airplane.
"I will explain it all on the plane", replied the “Professor”, as they both hurried towards the plane.
On my part, I knew why I was going to Rapid City. It was to see the Mount Rushmore Monument, where the final nail-biting climax of the film was filmed. Ever since I first saw that film, I had promised myself that one day I would visit that monument. Now on my fourth trip to the USA, my promise would crystallise. There were minor differences, of course. Instead of a dark windy night, as you would have expected in Chicago, it was a blazing hot bright afternoon at Minneapolis' St. Paul airport. I had no “Professor “ to hurry me along and I certainly did not have a “Miss Kendal” (Eva Marie Saint) waiting for me at the other end. But curiously, one thing had remained the same – the airline was still Northwest.
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After a short flight we landed at Rapid City airport. It is an airport like our Khajuraho airport. It is smack in the middle of nowhere. While landing, I observed that for miles around there was nothing but green fields, despite it being the middle of summer in a very dry zone. On the way to the city, I noticed the usual hamburger joints, petrol pumps, occasional motel, but very few people around. In fact I was the only passenger in a 10-seater taxi! The other passengers had either relatives picking them up or had hired cars at the airport. After the air-conditioned comfort of the aircraft, the airport and the taxi, the heat hit me like a clenched fist. It had been a long haul north from Texas, involving three separate plane rides and crossing and recrossing of time zones. So after a quick bite of a hamburger and a milk shake to follow, it was straight to bed.
The following morning, the tour bus was going to pick me up at the hotel at 8 o’ clock. It materialised at 09.45! Apparently, the driver had to pick up quite a few passengers on the way and not very many had displayed either the same sense of punctuality or eagerness to visit The Monument, as yours truly.
After meandering through vast landscapes of various shades of green that even bordered on BLACK, picking up more passengers on the way, we arrived at The Monument at around mid day. On the way I had seen a notice saying, North By Northwest filmed here. My adrenaline level was on the rise. The temperature was a searing 107 0 F. I was oblivious of it.
Finally I cast my eyes on what I had waited all these years to see, The Monument! It is neither a masterpiece of sculpture nor rock carving. Our own Ellora, Khajuraho or Dilwara temples leave this a million miles behind. But what is truly novel about this monument is the way it was fashioned. The heads of the four Presidents were literally dynamited out of a sheer mountain face. The original idea came from Doane Robinson, a South Dakota state historian. The idea was given shape by the sculptor Gutzon Borglum. With extremely skilful use of dynamite, Borglum blasted away the mountainside so that what was left behind, could be modelled into the likeness of four US Presidents, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Borglum himself died before the Monument was completed. It was completed by his son, Lincoln Borglum.
Due to the searing heat, it was advisable to retreat to some shady area. The nearest one was the exhibition hall at a lower level. There, they have a continuous film show, illustrating how the Monument took shape. It is a black and white film, a bit dated but nonetheless worth watching. Apart from anything else, it also helps you take the weight off your feet and allows you to cool down, before you venture out to be roasted, again. On enquiring with the Exhibition Hall guide, I was told that all that nail biting stuff from the film was actually shot in a Hollywood studio and none of the characters from North By Northwest had actually set foot on the Monument. Having seen the Monument, I was not really surprised to hear that, just a trifle disappointed. Cary Grant was, no doubt, an accomplished actor. But I don’t think mountaineering was his forte.
The journey back to Rapid City was a bit of an anti-climax, as it usually is, in such cases. The only thing worth remembering on the return journey was passing through a tunnel, where the clearance on either side of the coach was literally a few inches. Even a minute miscalculation on the part of our driver would have meant our coach and the tunnel wall exchanging a loving kiss!
After this, it was back to New York for the 11th Marathi Convention, a whirlwind of activity of dashing hither and thither and finally back home to London.
Editor: Romola Butalia   (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.