Gov. Kristi Noem has memorized a new line that she can use endlessly in future campaign speeches (and I suppose on any upcoming flights on Air Force One with President Trump). It’s "While other states are tearing down statues, South Dakota is putting them up," which I’ll admit has a better ring to it than “Meth. We’re On It,” but in order to use her new phrase, she has to put up new statues.
Her idea is to put up sculptures of Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Jefferson -- the same men whose likenesses are etched on Mount Rushmore -- on the dome of the South Dakota Capitol in Pierre.
Noem wants to put 10-foot tall statues of the four men in the four alcoves on the capitol exterior and has begun a campaign called the South Dakota Capitol Freedom Project to raise money to fund her idea.
The governor’s office states that the original building plans for the state capitol building, built between 1905 and 1910, called for the four exterior alcoves just under the capitol dome to include sculptures of some kind but the Legislature never provided the money over a century ago to allow that to happen.
I’m all in when it comes to any kind of art project in South Dakota. I just don’t think statues of these four men should be placed on our state capitol building when you can keep driving west after completing that seemingly endless drive to Pierre and see the same four dudes carved IN A MOUNTAIN, for crying out loud.
I also just checked Wikipedia and do you know how many statues of just Washington alone exist in all 50 states and in Washington, D.C. (and, I know, we could maybe add that both a city and a state are named after him but we’ll just stick to statues)? A total of 144. It’s a long list and my count could be off.
There just seems to be a great deal of redundancy in Noem’s idea. There are statues, monuments, parks, bridges, counties and cities named after these four. For decades, the likenesses of these four men have been scattered from coast to coast in the United States. There’s a chance that images of three of these four guys can be found in your purse or wallet, as they are part of our nation’s currency.
If we have to put up new statues so that Kristi can say we aren’t tearing any down, let’s put up statues of South Dakotans. Here are a few ideas:
Jean Todd. Todd was a Scottish immigrant and single mother who became one of the first trained nursing professionals in South Dakota. From her arrival in the Mitchell/Plankinton area in 1887, Todd overcame challenges such as poor transportation and opposition from local doctors to serve the community until retiring in 1918.
This one paragraph is all I can find about her right now as I’m typing this. I wish I could share more information about her. To me, she seems to be a worthy candidate.
Ernest O. Lawrence. Yes, I know, there’s a building named after him on the University of South Dakota campus, but the guy invented the cyclotron. He was born in 1901 in Canton, and studied chemistry at USD, went on to study at Yale and earned his doctorate at the University of California-Berkeley.
HIs cyclotron is a particle accelerator that accelerates charged particles outwards from the center along a spiral path. Cyclotrons were the most powerful particle accelerators until the 1950s and were mostly used for nuclear physics experiments. Lawrence worked on the famous Manhattan Project and received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1939.
Stephen Foster Briggs. If you like firing up your lawnmower to keep your lawn neatly trimmed during the summer, you can thank Briggs, because there’s a good chance your lawnmower has a Briggs and Stratton engine powering it. Briggs was born in Watertown and graduated from South Dakota State College (now South Dakota State University) in Brookings in 1907. The idea for his first product came from an upper-level engineering class project at SDSC.
After his graduation, he was eager to produce his engine and enter the rapidly expanding automobile industry. He eventually partnered with Harold M. Stratton, and in 1922, their fledgling company set a record in the automotive industry, selling the Briggs & Stratton Flyer (the “Red Bud”).
Eventually Briggs and Stratton settled on manufacturing automotive components and small gasoline engines. During World War II, Briggs & Stratton produced generators for the war effort. Some pre-war engines were made with aluminum, which helped the company develop its expertise in using this material. This development, along with the post-war growth of 1950s suburbs (and lawns), helped secure Briggs & Stratton’s successful growth throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
Donald G. (Don) Smith. Smith, a native of Belle Fourche, was the commander of Plane Fifteen, a B-25 nicknamed the “TNT,” that took part in the Doolittle Raid on Japan after that country attacked the United States Navy fleet at Pearl Harbor.
Smith, who was only 24 at the time, successfully led his squad to their target in Japan and, after a watery landing, to safety through Japanese-occupied territory in China. Seven months after the Doolittle Raid, Smith died in an airplane crash during a routine exercise over the English countryside. He left behind a family and a community that had, only months before, honored him while he visited home on leave.
You likely can think of more notable South Dakotans (including women, I’m sorry that my list only includes one) who deserve to be immortalized with a statue on the Capitol dome.
Write the governor. Let her know that South Dakotans should be part of her South Dakota Capitol Freedom Project.