In her book 101 Places Not to See Before You Die , Catherine Price includes two tourist attractions in South Dakota : Wall Drug and the Mount Rushmore National Monument. One of them I fully agree with , the other I don’t.
Wall,circa1930, was a nondescript little town ( population 400) in the middle of nowhere. And Wall Drug was a failing drugstore when its owner hit upon the idea of offering free ice water to thirsty travelers and advertised that on billboards along the highway. This resulted in a trickle of customers which soon grew into a flood and the rest, as they say, is history. Today, Wall Drug dwarfs the town of Wall. It is a sprawling cowboy themed mall, a 76,000 square foot agglomeration of stores all meant to relieve tourists of their dollars. It has an art museum, dozens of restaurants and gift shops and it also features a 80 foot Apatosaurus and the ” world’s second largest jackalope” ( a mythical cross between a jack rabbit and an antelope. More than three thousand billboards, north, west, east and west continue to draw sightseers to Wall Drug to the tune of more than two million each year. In other words, Wall Drug is famous for being famous. It is the epitome of the tourist trap and its one redeeming value in my eyes is that it continues to offer Free Ice Water and 5-cent coffees.
( Wall Drug’s formula for success has generated some imitators. Driving to Florida from New Jersey in the 1970’s , I remember seeing signs for South of the Border scores of miles away from its location at the border of North and South Carolina. By the time we got to it , we felt we had to stop there for a dekko . After all the anticipation, it proved a disappointment : just a collection of fast food stores and souvenir stands).
I don’t understand the criticism that the Mount Rushmore National Monument has never had any purpose other than being a tourist attraction. Yes, it was created to draw tourists to a barren part of South Dakota but so what ? The sheer and scale of the carvings of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson , Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln is staggering. Why should the Monument of the Presidents be down graded because it was built to attract tourists ? The only criteria should be whether it has any intrinsic value, not whether it was purpose-built. That the Mount Rushmore National Monument certainly has. It puts Americans in touch with their history and is a testament to what one man can achieve when dreams big. I, for one, nearly visited Mount Rushmore last October. There was a 11 day bus trip being organized by our retirement community and I was all set to go when something else came up and I had to cancel my plans. If I ever get another chance , I will.