History books paint a fairly pleasant picture of Father Junipero Serra, a Roman Catholic priest and friar often celebrated for his efforts in building modern-day California. Pope Francis even canonized Junipero on a visit to Washington D.C. But in recent years, historians have started digging deeper into the “Apostle of California” — and few liked what they found.
Serra was born to a poor Spanish family in 1713. His father sent him off to a Franciscan school where Serra received high grades, convincing him to join the Franciscan order. By age 24, he was officially Father Junipero Serra. What’s a celibate young man to do but spend his days studying?
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Father Serra (depicted below) became well-versed in theology, cosmology, physics, and philosophy. The friary was full of fellow priests with strict rules and schedules. Get up, pray, meditate, chant, study… all without outside visitors. Naturally, Serra grew to believe his faith was superior. Thus began his mission to find new converts.
Serra admired other missionaries who’d become famous by convincing hundreds to join the church. Three years after becoming a priest, Serra began teaching philosophy at a local convent. He had over 60 pupils who all considered him a genius. But 60 wasn’t enough.
By age 35, Serra wanted nothing more than to be a successful missionary. If he chose to stay in Spain, he could’ve lived a cushy life as a scholar. Instead, he thought it was more important to spread the word of God to the most savage, uncivilized people he could imagine — Americans.
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Spain was well into their colonization of the Americas by this point, thanks to history’s most well-known colonizer, Christopher Columbus. The Spanish spent three centuries spreading themselves across both the northern and southern continents. With millions of Spaniards settling overseas, Serra felt obliged to join.
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During the time of colonization, the Native American population plummeted. A mix of European diseases and mass genocide wiped them out in droves. Today, there are 5 million Native Americans living in the US.
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See, if Europeans weren’t in densely-populated cities, they lived on farms along with livestock, whom they regularly milked and sheered. Thanks to centuries of war, colonization became as natural as breathing. This led to mass immunity to foreign diseases. But Serra chalked all that up to being “superior.”
Serra and his fellow missionaries arrived in New Spain, now Mexico, in 1749. With strict rules against riding horses, Serra decided to walk to Mexico City while his compatriots went by horseback. He permanently injured his foot along the way, but Serra, ever-the-martyr, considered it an honor.
Serra spent 15 years in Mexico. He spread the word of Jesus, offering the lord’s forgiveness to the “poor, uneducated” natives. He continued to live modestly, which made his peers respect him even more. But this would all change when Spain sent him north to continue his mission.
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Serra was sent to modern-day California to establish a Spanish presence before the Russians moved in. In 1769, Serra and his crew ventured all the way up the west coast until they settled in Carmel. That’s when things got… intense.
By this point, the 50-year-old Serra was taking his martyrdom to the extreme. He continued traveling on foot instead of riding horses, despite his incredible foot pain. He barely ate and practiced self mutilation, all in the name of the Lord savior. Some of his practices were particularly jarring.
Serra would wear a shirt covered in pointy wires all day long, allowing it to tear up his skin. He’d burn himself with fire and whip his own body. Naturally, this violence fed into his treatment of the natives he was seeking to covert.
At the time, Serra was butting heads with the Spanish Army and other missionaries in the region. He wrote to the Spanish Inquisition to request assistance in “retaining the order” of these “misled” Christians. He claimed that the other local missionaries were performing witchcraft and other sorcery. Here’s an excerpt of his report:
“[They fly] through the air at night, are in the habit of meeting in a cave on a hill… where they worship and make sacrifice to the demons who appear visibly there in the guise of young goats and various other things of that nature.” Unfortunately, Serra beliefs resonated.
“If such evil is not attacked,” wrote Serra, “the horrible corruption will spread among these poor [Indian] neophytes who are in our charge.” With that, the man who claimed he was a sinner himself and a “most unworthy priest” was about to become extraordinarily powerful.
Serra was granted control of all the livestock and grain in the region. With such power, it was easy to force Native Americans to follow his orders. If they refused to work in the fields, they were left to starve or beaten mercilessly, leading to worsening conditions.
As the Native Americans suffered through starvation and brutalization, their ability to fight off foreign European disease diminished. This made the native population in California shrink drastically. As for the remaining natives, they were forced at gunpoint to follow Serra’s orders.
Many natives opposed the conversion that was being foisted upon them. Instead of fighting back and facing imprisonment, many chose to run away. But Serra, who viewed this as a terrible deviation, would have his men hunt the runaways down, drag them back to Carmel, and torture them brutally.
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While some of Serra’s followers found him extreme, many viewed him as a saint. Even the pope declared him as such, to the objection of many. Serra had convinced the natives that he was simply a savior. He died at age 70 with a high reputation. Today, many are looking to change that.
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Protesters in California have torn down and graffitied Serra’s statues, which tout him as the benevolent priest who helped Native Americans fight against the Spanish Army. Father Junipero Serra is just one piece of history that is being re-examined.
The initial plan for Mount Rushmore included only George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, but Gutzon decided to make it a quartet with Teddy Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson. Over 14 years, the sculptor climbed the mountain to complete his enormous task.
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Rose Arnold Powell attempted to have Susan B. Anthony added to the mountain. Rose spoke with Eleanor Roosevelt, who in turn wrote to Gutzon about the addition in 1936. But additions were difficult, as a congressional mandate fell apart due to the monument’s already large budget.
Gutzon wasn’t exactly your typical artist, either. Born to polygamist Mormons who lived in Idaho, Gutzon’s art career began in 1901 when he sculpted saints and apostles for Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
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Gutzon was known for his outspokenness on Native Americans. “I would not trust an Indian, off-hand, 9 out of 10, where I would not trust a white man 1 out of 10,” he was recorded as saying.
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Before Rushmore, Gutzon was approached by C. Helen Plane about creating a “shrine to the South” in Stone Mountain, Georgia. “I saw the thing I had been dreaming of all my life,” Gutzon said while eyeing the mountain in 1914.
His monument would feature generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. The job put him in contact with the Ku Klux Klan, who celebrated this tribute to the Confederacy with a torch-light celebration on Stone Mountain. Gutzon attended.
Gutzon also went to Klan meetings and helped members get funding for the project, though it stalled in the 1920s. During this time, Gutzon pitched the Mount Rushmore project. He accepted, which angered the Stone Mountain contributors.
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They fired him on February 25, 1925 and in return Gutzon chopped up his statue with an axe and went to North Carolina. Gutzon would spend the rest of his life on the Rushmore carving.
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He died in 1941, months before the sculpture’s completion. Gutzon’s white supremacist connections and personal leanings are one major black spot on the American monument, but this isn’t the only controversy surrounding Mount Rushmore.
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The sculpture was also built on land stolen from the Lakota tribe. “Wherever you go to connect to God, that’s what the Black Hills are to the Lakota,” said Nick Tilsen, member of the Oglala Lakota tribe and president of NDN Collective, an organization “dedicated to building Indigenous power.”
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The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 officially “gave” the Black Hills to Native Americans in perpetuity. Prospectors stole the land two years later in the 1870s gold rush, and then government officially seized the land.
This was also near the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre on December 29, 1890. Sioux tribe members — including women and children — were murdered by American soldiers. Hundreds of Native Americans were gunned down by the armed men.
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In the 1970s, there was the Second Siege at Wounded Knee when the spur American Indian Movement activists occupied the site asking the government to honor their treaties. Violence repeatedly broke out, ultimately ending with the deaths of one protester and two agents.
In the ’80s another group of Native Americans protested at the site. Ultimately the Supreme Court ruled eight tribes would receive $100 million in compensation for the U.S. government illegally seizing their land.
The presidents etched into Mount Rushmore have a controversial history with Native Americans, too. “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indian is the dead Indian, but I believe nine out of every 10 are and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the 10th,” Roosevelt declared in an 1886 speech.
George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both owned slaves. Washington freed his slaves in his 1799 will — but only after his wife died. Jefferson, meanwhile, owned more than 600 slaves and only freed nine. Uncomfortable as it is to acknowledge, the founding fathers helped perpetuate this evil institution.
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Abe Lincoln even had a controversial dealing with Native Americans in the Minnesota Uprising. White settlers accused 300 Dakota tribe members of attacking them in 1862. Lincoln commuted the sentences of all but 38, who were hanged. This remains the largest mass execution in American history.
Complicating the history of the Black Hills, there’s an unfinished carving of Crazy Horse, a Lakota chief who fought against land encroachment by the federal government. Work has been suspended since 1998, and some natives are angry that another piece of sacred land is being altered.
There’s one literally dirty secret about the monument. It wasn’t cleaned until 2005 when their faces were power washed to remove lichen, grime, and all the other junk that accumulated over the years.
The millions of tourists at Rushmore all have an opportunity to learn about the Lakota tribe and the full Black Hills history in a guided tour led by park rangers. However, there is one part of the monument where guides aren’t allowed to take any visitors.
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It has to do with a rivalry that plagued Gutzon Borglum for his entire life. He had a little brother who was known for his sculpting talents. Of course, Borglum decided he needed to become even better at the craft.
Borglum got his big break when he made a bust of Lincoln that got America’s attention. It was at this point that he was commissioned for a much larger project that would end up being Mount Rushmore.
Government officials in South Dakota believed their Black Hills would be the perfect location for a monument to the country. Not to mention it would bring in a little tourist income, which was badly needed.
But this project wasn’t cheap. The government did agree to pay for it, but it ended up costing nearly a million dollars. In today’s money, that amounts to about $15 million. With a crew of 30, Borglum started chipping away.
These thirty men were tasked with the arduous job of blasting the solid rock with dynamite, carving away at its stony facade. Definitely not easy work. As they focused on the details on each presidential face, Bolgrum’s mind was elsewhere.
While most people involved with the construction were most invested in worries about the sculptures themselves, Bolgrum had much more secretive plans in mind. The carved stone faces were only the beginning of his magnum opus.
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This is because he secretly desired to build a special hidden room, squirreled away behind Abraham Lincoln’s head. This place would include important documents, such as the Declaration of Independence, and other plaques explaining the importance of the project — the ultimate artistic statement.
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Finally, in 1938, an entire decade after construction had first begun, builders began blasting away at the top of the statue, creating the room that Bolgrum hoped to become his so-called Hall of Records.
In Bolgrum’s vision, this room would be no easy feat for the everyday person to access. Visiting the hall would require climbing an 800-foot staircase, after which tourists would enter beneath a large golden eagle with an impressively large wingspan of 38 feet.
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Of course, the government still wasn’t very fond of this idea, so officials refused to finance it. A South Dakota state senator stepped in, offering relief workers to aid in the process, but even this wouldn’t turn out as planned.
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Bolgrum didn’t like the idea of relief workers being employed because this would mean that, unlike with government financing, none of the funds would go straight into the pocket of the architect himself.
Tragically, Gutzon Borglum died in March 1941, and never lived to see the day that his cherished Hall of Records would be completed. This was far from the end of the story for Borglum’s pet project, though.
Only mere months after Borglum’s sudden passing, in October of 1941, Mount Rushmore was finally completed — sans the Hall of Records. That is, until a certain group petitioned to make Borglum’s dying wish see the light of day.
Yes, for years after his passing Borglum’s entire family fought tirelessly to have his passion project included in the iconic breathtaking work he’d created. Unfortunately, for a long time their efforts remained fruitless.
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Then, finally, in 1998 the state gave them permission to enter the half-finished Hall of Records. The family placed plaques inside the dwelling. These included inscriptions describing the work done on the mountain, as well as its significance to Bolgrum and the nation itself.
One plaque included a quote from Bolgrum: “Hence, let us place there…as close to heaven as we can, the words of our leaders…to show posterity what manner of men they were. Then breathe a prayer that these records will endure until the wind and rain alone shall wear them away.”
While it’s wonderful that Bolgrum finally received his dying wish and that his family had the sentimental closure of placing the plaques inside, the Hall of Records remains closed to the public to this day.
Still, a group of visitors recently got a great deal more than they bargained for. In fact, they saw something shockingly out of place when they looked up at the mountain.
Hard as it was to believe, there was a trespasser making her way up to the monument. And this woman wasn’t just walking a few feet off the trail, either. She was nearing a dangerous point of no return.
This woman was starting to scale the stone faces, like she was a she was a South Dakotan Spider-Woman. Somehow, she’d made it onto the face of the monument without anyone knowing.
In fact, she’d climbed over the safety railing and ignored multiple no trespassing signs designed to deter even the most confused tourist. Once she was on the rock face, observers noticed something even more shocking.
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This climber was scaling the monument without a safety rope or harness! And, perhaps even more bizarrely, she was climbing into the space between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson without any shoes.
Unsurprisingly, the authorities quickly reacted to the intruder. When a park ranger approached the slope intending to bring the woman back to safety, however, their interaction was far from usual.
When the ranger asked the woman to come down, she reportedly asked if authorities wanted her to come down quickly or slowly. She kept scaling the mountain during their conversation, however.
She kept climbing on the faces, reaching roughly three quarters of the way up the 60-foot tall presidents. At that point, authorities decided that they’d had enough of this stunt.
They spoke to the woman again, and she agreed to come down from the monument. She was identified as Alexandria Incontro, who was visiting the tourist attraction with her family from Nebraska.
Once back on solid ground, Incontro was searched, handcuffed, and arrested. She was then taken to a waiting ambulance to make sure that she was healthy enough to be taken to jail.
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Medics found that Incontro had some scrapes from scaling the rock pile at the base of the monument; she also had minor injuries from her barefoot climb. She declined further treatment and was taken to Pennington County Jail.
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She was charged with multiple crimes, but most of them were dropped before Incontro appeared in federal court. She ultimately plead guilty to climbing Mount Rushmore and was fined $1,000. Weirdly, she wasn’t the only unauthorized explorer in recent years.
In 1970, members American Indian Movement planned to scale and occupy the monument. Greenpeace also tried and failed to hang a banner shaped like a gas mask on George Washington in 1987.
In 2018, 19-year old Zachary Schossau, who was in the area for a Christian music festival, was nabbed by park rangers on the rocks below the mountain. He, too, had a memorable exchange with authorities.
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When the rangers approached, he reportedly said “I’m sorry dude! I was just doing it for the fun.” And while that’s a polite apology, it didn’t stop him from being arrested and fined.
Greenpeace made a return trip up Mount Rushmore in 2009; their climb, however, was designed to make a statement, which earned them a much stiffer punishment when authorities eventually intervened.
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Twelve activists scaled the back of the mountain and rappelled down the presidents’ faces. They also unfurled a large banner, asking then-president Barack Obama to stop global warming. It hung for about an hour before being removed.
Eleven of the twelve activists were charged with trespassing and climbing Mount Rushmore. They were all fined and sentenced to community service, while one member spent two days in jail. Trouble keeps happening at tourist attractions around the world…
When a 12-year-old Taiwanese boy embarrassingly tripped at a Taipei museum, disaster struck. He fell into a 350-year-old oil painting, punching a hole in it — and this was no cheap work of art!
The painting, entitled “Flowers” by Italian painter Paolo Porpora, was estimated to cost a cringe-inducing $1.5 million. But don’t fret. The exhibition’s coordinator, Sun Chi-hsuan, disclosed that the boy was super apologetic, and the painting was insured.
Although Rome’s Colosseum is literally ruins, we can’t blame all of the tourists for its condition, considering the Italian landmark is actually ancient… but we can blame a few of them for its less-than-stellar state.
Two Brazilian dudes thought it would be a cute idea to hop the Colosseum’s gate at the crack of dawn and spray paint the walls! Thankfully, both men were arrested. Enough battles have been fought at the Colosseum; authorities don’t need anymore!
In 2007, Nick Flynn tripped on his loose shoelaces and fell down a flight of stairs at Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam museum… directly into a display of inanely prized 17th century Qing dynasty vases, demolishing three of them. Oopsie.
The Fitzwilliam Museum
Although Nick wasn’t charged with anything, despite the ridiculous $800,000 worth of damage, authorities wondered if the “accident” wasn’t really an accident: he was arrested and banned from a separate museum. Coincidence? Hmmm.
We all know what the Mile High Club is, and it almost always involves a cramped airplane bathroom. So is there a club for gettin’ down 455 feet up… on the top of the Great Pyramid of Giza? Well, one couple tried to start one!
Laughably, Egyptian authorities investigated Danish photographer Andreas Hvid after he posted a super NSFW photo of himself and a woman in a telling position atop the pyramid. This was not the photo.
Although he claimed the racy photo was fake, he did admit to scaling the monument, which is also forbidden. Way to give the conservative Egyptians a headache-and-a-half.
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One family visited a UK monastery-turned-museum, the Prittlewell Priory, with a mission for mayhem that would earn them some serious internet notoriety…
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They placed their baby in an 800-year-old sandstone coffin, obviously ignoring all museum barriers, just to snap a cool pic. And yes, they, of course, damaged the artifact. The destruction wasn’t awful, but the disrespect stung just the same.
Vladimir Umanets must have felt like he had a message of great importance to share with the world because he sure did go big when it came to spreading the good news…
In 2012, Umanets spray-painted a note, in black might we add, on one of abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko’s works at London’s Tate Modern gallery. The self-promotional scheme landed Umanets in prison for two years.
An anonymous 24-year-old man decided to test his luck by attempting a selfie adjacent to the 126-year-old statue of Dom Sebastiao, a highly honored Portuguese ruler. Needless to say, it wasn’t exactly a picture-perfect moment.
Sure enough, according to Fox News, he lost his balance and caused the prized statue to take a nose-dive to the concrete ground, crumbling into pieces.
The furious “Infraestruturas de Portugal” planned to press charges on the man. It’s been said that Dom Sebastiao’s spirit will return to Portugal, riding a white horse, to reclaim his throne in a time of need… and maybe get revenge.
When in a foreign place, taking home a piece of culture, usually in the form of a piece of art or an accessory, makes you feel worldly. Unfortunately, a woman’s experience in a southwest Chinese jewelry store was less than enriching.
After trying on a jade bracelet, she was notified that the price of the piece was $44,000. Her frantic attempt to remove the bracelet only led to its tragic demise. Watching the pieces break in half caused the woman to literally faint in the shop.
Yellowstone National Park is full of Mother Nature’s treasures. You’d think that people would let those remain sacred to the land, but not everyone does. In this case, these tourists had good intentions, but poor judgment.
Tourists stole a baby bison they believed was freezing. They drove the baby animal to the closest ranger station in a pursuit to save it. Of course, it’s commonly known that bison are equipped to handle the cold winter weather, just not to these tourists.
Unfortunately, the calf was unable to be brought back to its family because of the human interaction it endured, so the baby was euthanized. A park ranger said: “The well-being of these animals depends on visitors exercising good judgment.”
While visiting the International Arts Center Main Avenue in Yekaterinburg, Russia, a group of women tried to take a selfie in front of an art display by renowned artists Francisco Goya and Salvador Dalí.
The women proceeded to knock down an entire wall of art in the process! The Russian news agency, TASS, reported that “Goya’s work had its frame and glass broken. As far as Dalí’s artwork is concerned, apart from shattered frame and protective glass, it also suffered damage to the picture itself.”
Luckily for the gals, the Yekaterinburg police refused to open a criminal case against them, as reported by CNN. The question that still remains, however, is: did they get the picture?