The Presidents of South Dakota

by Derrick Bostrom


I can't remember when my fascination with the American presidents began. Growing up with a character like Richard Nixon on the national scene probably had something to do with it. But to borrow the title from a popular book from the era, it didn't start with Nixon. Turns out, they're ALL a bunch of characters! The great ones are awe inspiring, the mediocre ones provoke hilarity, the scoundrels counjure up a fearful sense of wonder, even the obscure ones achieve cult status, specifically because they are so obscure.

The presidency is a magnet for both conspiracy theorists, and aspiring songwriters. I myself have used our commanders in chief as a sleep aid. Before I had it memorized, I used to combat insommnia by reciting to myself the order of presidential succession. I'm an avid collector of presidential trivia. I fantasize about visiting all the presidential birth and death places (and gravesites). I'm consumed with envious admiration at the industry of Sarah Vowell.One of my goals is to acquire a complete set of presidential china.

Of course, I'm not the only one with presidential fever, and there are plenty of tourist attractions catering to  my affliction. During our recent visit to South Dakota, my wife and I had occasion to visit a couple of them. Sure, we saw the big stone-headed kahuna, Mount Rushmore, but it was merely the largest and most famous. We found the Presidential Wax Museum in Keystone to be just as entertaining, and almost twice as time consuming.

Since amateur photography is welcomed at the museum, I managed to capture a small handful of photos. I also purchased a few dandy postcards in the gift shop. But, surrounded as I was by natural beauty and historic squalor, I apportioned only a small part of my digital storage space to the darkened museum. Luckily, history buff Mary Harrsch offers over a hundred supplemental photos on her Flickr site.

Our other favorite presidential attraction was the heart of downtown Rapid City, which features many prominent bronze statues of our chief executives on its street corners. World traveler Galen Frysinger has most of 'em up on his site, but I myself managed to snap two that he missed. On the subject of missing things, I can't believe we passed this one up. But it came up at the end of a long day of driving (we pulled down over twelve hundred miles for the whole trip), and we just couldn't bear to stop, even for something as great as this.

Bonus question: Who are the gentlemen in the above photo, and what do they all have in common?

Keystone Presidential Wax Museum

Keystone Presidential Wax Museum

Keystone Presidential Wax Museum

Keystone Presidential Wax Museum

Keystone Presidential Wax Museum

Keystone Presidential Wax Museum

Keystone Presidential Wax Museum

Keystone Presidential Wax Museum

Keystone Presidential Wax Museum - Postcard

Keystone Presidential Wax Museum - Postcard

Keystone Presidential Wax Museum - Postcard

Keystone Presidential Wax Museum - Postcard

Keystone Presidential Wax Museum

Rapid City, South Dakota

Rapid City, South Dakota