A lifetime of Sunrise Services: Part Two

Leslie Silverman
By Leslie Silverman
This is part two of a seven-part series exploring the rich history of the Easter Sunrise Service at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, as the tradition will celebrate its 75th year on April 9.
The 1950s Easter Sunrise Services at Mount Rushmore National Memorial could be called the decade of fame and celebrity.
An image of the first service of that decade was captured on film by C.H. Orelup and featured in Life Magazine. 
The 1950 First Congregational Church bulletin also suggests this was the first time the memorial was referred to as the “Shrine of Democracy,” a designation used by Rev. Carl Loocke. That designation is still used today. Rev. C.H. Fylling gave the April 9 sermon.
On March 25, 1951 Badger Clark, South Dakota’s first Poet Laureate, drew the largest Sunrise Service crowd thus far. Clark was a friend of Loocke’s and the two took flying lessons in the 1920s. Clark, the son of a Methodist minister, used his rich voice to deliver a sermon about the resurrection of Christ.
“The hinge of Christianity is suspended from Christ’s resurrection,” Clark said according to an article from the Rapid City Daily Journal. “There is a great need for Easter in the Christian religion.”
It is estimated that 500 people attended the service with as many as 100 congregating outside the sculptor’s studio on the chilly sunny morning.
April 13, 1952 was a mild Easter with partly cloudy skies. It was also the final sermon for Rev. H.H. DeNeui.
DeNenui was replaced by Rev. R.L. Gowan at the April 4, 1953 Easter Sunrise Service. Promotion  for the service in the Rapid City Daily Journal noted, “religion, oratory, community singing, patriotism, plus coffee and donuts after 7:15 a.m. at ninth annual Easter Sunrise service atop Mount Rushmore tomorrow.” The service was, in fact, held at the Sculptor's Studio—not “atop” the monument itself.
In 1954 Timothy Olson, son of Mr. and Mrs. James Olson of Custer, was baptized by Loocke at the Easter Sunrise Service. Historians believe this is the first baptism to take place at the memorial.
For the 1955  sunrise service park superintendent Charles Humberger welcomed a crowd of about 1,000 people who were treated to clear skies and warm temperatures. 
National Park Service officials in the region for a week-long training likely attended the April 10 event.  
Easter services in 1956 occurred April 1 and marked the last sunrise service for Loocke. Loocke was suffering from renal failure and possibly cancer and, according to his granddaughter, died by suicide. The tradition of taking a photograph at the end of the service died with Loocke as well. 
Badger Clark read a special poem that year entitled “A Cowboy’s Prayer.” It may have been one of his last public appearances as he too passed away in the Fall of 1957.
Despite the tragedy Gowan was in charge of organizing the April 21, 1957 service. Road construction along with heavy rains made the road to the memorial unusable. With the help of the National Park Service the service was moved three miles away to the Peter Norbeck Overlook on  Iron Mountain Road. 
Humberger alerted the public of the change through the newspaper and park rangers directed traffic to the new site. Despite the new location, worshippers still were able to hear the musical talents of  Keystone resident Lois Halley. Halley’s husband and his friends loaded her upright piano into the bed of a pickup truck the night before. The pickup was then driven to the overlook. Halley says the piano never left the pickup and she played right there in the truck bed.
Join us next week as we continue to explore the Easter Sunrise Service at Mount Rushmore National Memorial. A special thanks to historian Eilleen Roggenthen from the  First Congregational Church of Keystone for the historical preservation and collection of documents, pictures and stories.

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