When I was a freshman in high school, I ran for a class office—probably secretary or treasurer or dog catcher, because I did not have the confidence to run for president or vice president. I learned two things that fall of 1987: 1. The democratic process is a rigorous test of character, and 2. In a class of roughly 200, I had 17 friends. Someone with a crystal ball looking 24 years into the future would not have been surprised to see me sitting at a computer with Cheeto crumbs in my goatee, writing blogs about typography.
I lost that election to someone whose name I forget, but whose campaign slogan, I’m pretty sure, was “More Tunes in the Cafeteria.” The election results not withstanding, I remember enjoying the reaction to my campaign posters, which featured an image of Mount Rushmore, with my own face imposed alongside George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.
With Adobe Photoshop 1.0 still three years from being released, I accomplished this effect with scissors, a Xerox machine, and a lot of wasted paper. I recently called my parents in the hopes that they still had one of these posters stashed away, but they had to throw it away to make room for all of my Harvard-lawyer brother’s A+ tests and term papers.
Nearly two and a half decades after that fateful election, on Memorial Day 2011, there I was at the base of the real Mount Rushmore with my wife and two children.
As an experience, Mount Rushmore National Memorial creates a dramatic approach through a series of archways and US state flags, and ultimately allows visitors to get as close as the base of the sculpture. Through a variety of interpretive media, I learned that the reason the sculpture is located in South Dakota’s black hills is that those responsible (whose names I forget because visitors remember ideas, not facts) wanted to draw visitors to a beautiful part of the country. I also learned that sculptor Gutzon Borglum (whose name I had to look up because I can barely remember the names of my family members and friends, let alone historical figures) intended for the final product to include the upper torsos of the featured presidents, pictured here in the sculptor’s studio at the site.
One of the most impressive things about the the sculpture itself, is that it was crafted using blasts of dynamite, which reminds me a little of Shea’s approach to typography.
During our trip, we stayed at nearby Crooked Creek Campground, which featured a slightly less-sophisticated visual presence.
Visitors to the campground are greeted by directional signage that demonstrates that all-too-common grammatical structure in which the apostrophe signifies “Here comes the letter S!”
Next up was this stop sign, which is an improvement on those generic, government-issued stop signs because it specifies exactly where one should stop.
The campground also features more permanent, professionally produced signs for those who are really bad at both counting and directions. There are two more of these signs that read “2nd Left” and “3rd Left.” I figure these signs have to be the result of a committee meeting that started with someone saying, “You know, I’ve talked to a lot of people who just don’t know what we’re talking about when we say, ‘Take the first left.’ People keep turning the wrong way and parking in the river, and their tents are floating away.”
Ultimately, I enjoyed both the sophisticated presentation of a popular National Park Service site and the home-cookin’, hand-painted visual vernacular of our road-side campground—because both were appropriate to the experience. That said, the next time I go camping in South Dakota, I’m bringing a can of black paint and editing the apostrophe out of that “Follow Sign’s” sign.
And the next time I run for political office, I’m using Photoshop instead of a Xerox machine.