Helen Plane felt it was the duty of the Daughters of the Confederacy to preserve the memory of Confederacy and the veterans who served during the war. Her husband fought with General Robert E. Lee during the War Between the States and died at the Battle of Gettysburg. When the first Daughters of the Confederacy Convention took place in Atlanta, Georgia, Plane wanted Atlanta represented. Chapters of the organization already existed in both Savannah and Augusta and the veteran's widow had widespread support for an Atlanta chapter. It was officially formed on July_18, 1895 and had an initial membership of 100 people.
Plane served as President of both the Atlanta chapter and the national organization, which started calling itself the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC). Plane and others worked to preserve the remaining heritage of The Civil War, especially in the Atlanta area, although much had already been destroyed. She felt there was not enough done to honor the leaders of the Confederacy during the war and she conceived the idea of honoring the late general Robert E. Lee with a carving on the largest piece of exposed granite in the world, Stone Mountain. Personal records show repeated references to the carving beginning in 1909 and other records dating to 1911 associates Plane's name with the concept.
In 1914 the idea got off to a start with some powerful endorsements appearing in local papers, including guest editorials in local newspapers by northern editors. Discussions with Stone Mountain owner Sam Venable opened up, and Venable recommended American artist Gutzon Borglum, who was contacted by Mrs. Plane in June 1915. When Borglum visited that August, he embraced the idea of a sculpture of Lee on Stone Mountain and expanded it to include an army following the general.
The relationship between Borglum and Plane was strained from the beginning. In Plane's mind Borglum, a native of the Idaho Territory, was a Yankee. Still, Plane did like his concept of General Lee followed by Confederate President Jefferson Davis and a group of five generals, then 65 staff officers (each of the 13 Confederate states would chose 5 of their officers to honor) followed by a group of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry. Borglum mentions Stonewall Jackson and Joseph E. Johnston in some of his papers regarding the carving.
Borglum's 8 million dollar estimate, however, was more than the local chapter could raise, so Plane took the idea to the National Organization. They supported the carving but refused to contribute financially, citing existing projects. Borglum then said he could complete the central figures for $250,000, which the local chapter okay'ed, although it was doubtful they could raise that much money.
This 1916 photo of Stone Mountain shows work had already begun at that time
Borglum moved to the village of Ingleside (known today as Avondale Estates) in 1916 and began to plan his 8-year project. Although many references cite 1923 as the date work started, some work was complete in 1916-17, including building a 450 step staircase to the face of the mountain. Unfortunately, not much of the carving was completed when the United State entered World War I in April, 1917.
Following the war, fundraising was problematic, so Borglum continued other pursuits until money could be raised. Borglum did assist in the fundraising efforts, convincing Georgia Power to run electricity to the site for no charge and talking to politicians and groups about the carving. When he returned in 1921, the infrastructure he developed in 1916 was badly in need of repair, so repairs were his first order of business. He also worked on a complex device to project his image on the mountain. The UDC organized the Stone Mountain Confederate Monumental Association (SMCMA) to raise money for the project and to supervise its day-to-day operations. By this time Venable and Borglum's association with the Klan was well-known and they arranged to stack the Association's board with Klan members.
On January 19, 1924 a group of dignitaries including Mrs. Plane dined on chicken beneath General Lee's head before an unveiling witnessed by some 5,000 people. Following the unveiling, two important cracks began to influence the proceedings. First, a crack in the granite significantly delayed the carving. The second crack appeared between the UDC and the SMCMA, with Gutzon Borglum squarely in the middle. Hollis Randolph, chairman of the SMCMA, tried to usurp the SMCMA for political reasons, and the UDC objected to accounting irregularities of his group. Borglum then became involved in a second project, today's Mount Rushmore, which the committee was not happy about. In spite of minority support, the SMCMA decided to dismiss Borglum. The sculptor destroyed his work and fled the state on February_25, 1925 after a charge of malicious mischief was made. When Georgia found the sculptor in North Carolina they also found they could not extradite him on a misdemeanor, so they created a felony charge of larceny. The North Carolinians refused extradition and the charges against Borglum were dropped.
The UDC and Sam Venable enlisted Augustus Lukeman on April_16, 1925 to try and complete the project by 1928, when a 12 year time limit set by the Venables expired. His power waning, Randolph had little choice but to back the decision by the UDC.
Visitors in 1928 view Lukemans work. Note the remains of Borglums carving on the ledge above.
Lukemen, a "yankee" from New York, altered the carving and sent new drawings to the Association for approval. He envisioned two groups, one of four men on horseback, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, "Stonewall" Jackson, and an unnamed color-bearer, and a second group which would later be dropped because of cost and time pressure. Lukeman returned to Atlanta in 1925, got his plans approved and worked with the UDC on hiring contract carvers and support personnel. Work on the monument begin in September, 1926. Lukeman used a point system to accurately transfer his models to the immense granite canvas and allowed two carvers, George Weiblen and Theodore Bottinelli to oversee the actual work. Lukeman journeyed to Stone Mountain from New York once a month to check on the progress.
In May 1928, Lukeman finally blasted Borglum's work from the face of the mountain, to the objections of Sam Venable. Once again, cracks between the major players began to open, and although a significant amount of work was completed by Lukeman the carving was halted when Venable refused to renew the lease on the mountain. Sam Venable wanted his friend Gutzon Borglum to return, but there was so much bad blood that his return was impossible. For the next 30 years the carving sat uncompleted, a curiosity for passing travelers.
In 1930 the city of Atlanta became involved with the carving. Mayor James Key and councilman Wiley Moore were strong proponents of taking over the carving and completing it. Three years later the Association was still waiting for Atlanta's approval, which did not seem likely because of the Great Depression. Talk of completing the project resurfaced in 1936 and 1940, when Gone With The Wind rekindled interest.
As early 1940 the state of Georgia expressed an interest in the property. Not just the carving, but the entire mountain. Heirs to the Venable estate were adamant about keeping the mountain, but Georgia formed the Stone Mountain Memorial Association in 1941 and hired Atlanta sculptor Julian Harris to complete the work. Harris proposed creating the carving in low relief and the WPA was assigned the task of providing labor for the project. Unfortunately, World War II intervened and acquiring the land and carving the mountain were no longer a priority of the state.
The state's interest was rekindled in 1945 and 1949, and the first proposal that resembles today's park was made by Scott Candler of the DeKalb County Commission. In addition to the completion of the carving, Candler proposed multi-use lakes (fishing, boating and swimming), hiking trails, golf, camping and a myriad of other attractions including a railroad. In spite of widespread support, it was difficult getting all the players on the same page. In 1955, when it seemed to be impossible to get all the players to a reasonable consensus, the state decided to exit the fray and for the next couple of years a private firm tried to move the project forward without success.
Georgia began to purchased the mountain in 1958 led by Governor Marvin Griffin and Lt. Governor Ernest Vandiver. By 1960, with Vandiver now governor, the state completed the lengthy process, then took the unusual step of condemning their own land. It seemed Sam Venable had deeded the Klan the right to hold meetings on the mountain and condemnation was the only way to relieve the state of this burden. They also began work on quickly completing the carving.
First, Gloucester (MA) artist Walker Hancock was hired in 1963 (sometimes noted as 1962, but actually January, 1963). Once again the groups involved broke into bitter dispute, which Hancock wisely avoided. Using Lukeman's models and newer technology, including thermo-jet torches (a public relations term for an oxy-jet torch), but keeping Lukeman's point system to transfer the image to the mountain, the process was sped up. Another proposal, eliminating the tangle of horse's feet at the bottom of the sculpture also reduced the time it would take to complete the carving.
In September, 1963, 35 years after work had been halted, men once again scaled the half-completed mountain to prepare for carving. By January, 1965 a team of seven men, including ex-Marine Ray Faulkner, began rigging the mountain. Carving started on July_11, 1964 as workers began by highlighting the existing portraits of Lee and Jackson with the jet torches. They did this to practice their techniques, remove an ugly coating of mildew that had accumulated and to give the carving a uniform surface. Carvers quickly discovered that the intense heat of the torches vitrified the granite. This glassy coating had to be removed with buffing. On Thanksgiving Day, 1964, the canvas tarp over the carving was removed, exposing the work to date. The unveiling had not been announced, but word quickly spread that the statue was visible and crowds flocked to the mountain.
Over time, Roy Faulkner became the most skilled at using the larger jet torch. When Howard Williams fell to his death on August 1, 1966, many of the carving crew quit, but Faulkner continued to man the jet torch. Faulkner himself nearly fell to his death, but he grabbed onto the hose of the jet torch which miraculously broke his fall. Carving continued, and in September, 1966 Hancock began making the final adjustments to the carving while Faulkner and the small crew worked on the mountain. One of the last adjustments made to the mountain regarded Jeff Davis' hat. The original Lukeman model had Davis with a military hat. Since he was a civilian during the Civil War, Davis would not wear such a hat, so the existing hat was modified by adding a large piece of granite and recarving it.
President Richard Nixon was originally going to attend the dedication of the carving of Stone Mountain on May_9, 1970. On May_4, 1970 Ohio National Guard troops opened fire on the student body of Kent State, throwing the country into an uproar over the Vietnam War. Citing "matters of state..." President Nixon bowed out of the ceremony, sending Vice President Spiro Agnew in his place. William Holmes Borders, a noted African-American theologian and pastor of the Wheat St. Baptist Church, was tapped to give the invocation. His inclusion forced the Klan to give up plans of attending the ceremony.
In 1972, the carving was officially declared complete.