BY DOUGLAS J. GLADSTONE
United States Representative Nita Lowey can help the late Luigi Del Bianco.
Lowey, who has been a member of the House of Representatives for the last 26 years, represents New York’s 17th Congressional District, which not only includes much of Rockland County, but the village of Port Chester, in Westchester County, as well. Del Bianco, a talented stone carver who came to this country in 1907, lived in Port Chester for a half-century.
An immigrant from the Italian Province of Pordenone, Del Bianco died on January 20, 1969 of accelerated silicosis, which he got from never having worn a mask while working as the chief carver of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial from 1933 through 1940. You read that right. An immigrant to these shores was the chief carver of what is widely considered to be one of the world’s most renowned sculptures.
Tasked with giving the four presidential faces their “refinement of expression” by no less than Rushmore sculptor and designer Gutzon Borglum, whose own letters in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress clearly attests to his importance, Del Bianco is specifically referred to as the chief carver in one of these letters, dated July 30, 1935.
But that’s not enough to satisfy the folks at the National Parks Service (NPS), which is a branch of the United States Department of the Interior. “I have seen the letter in which Borglum refers to Del Bianco as chief carver,” Maureen McGee Ballinger, of the NPS, told Denis Hamill of The New York Daily News last October. “But I consider Gutzon Borglum the chief carver.”
Del Bianco? He was just one of the workers under Borglum, says the NPS.
The policy of the Parks Service is that all 400 individuals who worked at the monument from 1927 through 1941 receive the same credit, irrespective of their jobs. While that’s very egalitarian, it also presupposes that the man who ran the elevator lift was as important as Del Bianco.
The Parks Service is clearly dropping the ball here. They could be telling this great narrative about an Italian American immigrant who in 1929 became a citizen of this country who was the chief carver on what is arguably the most iconic landmark in this country. Instead, the Park Service continues to recognize only Borglum for his work at the monument
Naturally, members of Del Bianco’s family, including his 52-year-old grandson, Lou –a children’s performer from Port Chester — are none too pleased by this.
How can Representative Lowey help? Well, she can first get Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on the phone. She can tell her that there are 2.7 million New Yorkers who identify themselves as Italian Americans who would puff up their chests with pride if they found out that one of their fellow landsmen was recognized by the federal government as Mount Rushmore’s chief carver.
She could then share with her this July 9, 1991 resolution from the Congressional Record that she read in support of Del Bianco. And if all else fails, she could politely remind her that, since she’s the Ranking Member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee — the legislative body that has more than some influence on how much Jewells’s federal agency receives at budget time – it might be wise for her to recognize this man once and for all.
It wouldn’t even cost the United States of America any money. Just put a plaque somewhere on the grounds of the memorial. Lou Del Bianco says he’d pay for it out of his own pocket. Now that doesn’t seem unreasonable, does it?
More importantly, the 18 million people in this country who identify themselves as Italian Americans will thank her for it.
Douglas J. Gladstone is a magazine writer and author from New York. His book “Carving a Niche for Himself; The Untold Story of Luigi Del Bianco and Mount Rushmore,” is sold in New York by Bordighera Press.