Douglas Gladstone, author of a new book about Port Chester resident Luigi Del Bianco, talks about the forgotten stone carver of Mount Rushmore during The Phil Reisman Show, which airs Thursdays at 12:30 p.m on lohud.com.
Momentum is swinging in Luigi Del Bianco’s favor.
Good things are happening. He finally may be getting his due.
As the chief carver at Mount Rushmore in the days of the Great Depression, Del Bianco played an important role in creating a titanic work of industrial art, an awe-inspiring American masterpiece, which draws thousands of visitors every day to the Black Hills of South Dakota.
But the sculptor’s contributions were only barely recognized, if at all. Del Bianco was unjustly reduced to a footnote in history. A soft-spoken Italian immigrant, who, as far as anyone knows, was interviewed only once by a newspaper (The Yonkers Herald Statesman), died in Port Chester in 1969 at the age of 76.
Six weeks ago, I wrote about his grandson, Lou Del Bianco, whose mission for many years now has been to persuade the National Park Service to tell the artisan’s story through a special exhibit at the Mount Rushmore visitor center. Pulling a sore tooth from a mule might be easier.
Even the idea of installing a modest plaque has been met with stubborn bureaucratic resistance. The park service believes that singling anyone out of a force of some 400 workers who helped carve the presidential faces would be counter to the egalitarian spirit.
Douglas Gladstone, whose book, “Carving a Niche for Himself: The Untold Story of Luigi Del Bianco,” is highly critical of the policy, told me in June that “there’s no way” that the park service would ever sell the book at the visitor center gift shop.
“I’m going against the grain,” he said then. “I’m painting them with a black hat. I’ve reached out and I’m still waiting for them to get back to me.”
Since that interview, they did get back to him. Last Friday, Gladstone’s publisher finalized a deal with the park service to put the book on sale.
Ecstatic over the news, Gladstone believes this is a giant step forward to getting Del Bianco the full recognition he deserves.
“Heck yes it is,” the author said in an email. “The federal National Park Service really does believe in free speech I guess…even when that speech/opinion is contrary to their own.”
Lou Del Bianco said Monday half facetiously that Gladstone’s accomplishment was the “13th labor of Hercules.”
There have been other recent developments in Del Bianco’s quest, all of them positive.
“I’m thrilled and happy,” Del Bianco said. “It’s been a long road. There’s a tipping point and I think that’s what I’m visualizing.”
Word has spread, thanks in part to a memorial to his grandfather that was unveiled at a June 21 dedication ceremony in Port Chester. A professional storyteller who portrays the chief carver in a one-man show, Del Bianco has captured the attention of Matilda Cuomo, the former first lady of New York, as well as the Italian consulate and Italy’s commissioner of education.
The story of Luigi Del Bianco was recently told on the “CBS Evening News.”
There’s talk of a documentary in the works. And Del Bianco has written a screenplay that some day he hopes will be turned into a movie.
He started a petition on moveon.org, calling on people to support the cause. Once he reaches 50,000 names, he plans on sending the petition to Congress and President Obama. So far, he has several hundred names—many, but certainly not all, belonging to people of Italian heritage. Del Bianco acknowledged the diversity.
“I have to keep telling myself that, to tell you the truth, that it isn’t just Italian-Americans that love this,” he said. “This is a very universal story. People fall in love with Luigi no matter where they come from.”
But no one held Luigi in higher esteem than Gutzon Borglum, the eccentric genius who designed Mount Rushmore. His private papers document Del Bianco’s importance to completing a project that seemed impossible. “He is worth any three men I could find in America,” Borglum said of his chief carver.
Those words should be chiseled in stone.
Reach Phil Reisman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @philreisman.