Carver’s legacy on display

Leslie Silverman

The Keystone Museum has opened the basement for the first time in two years, showcasing a variety of displays, including one about the life of the late carver Nick Clifford.

The former storage space which housed old benches and cases was cleaned up by board members and museum director Casey Sullivan.

“One of the biggest goals was to open the basement here,” Sullivan said. “This was quite a big project for us. There were many artifacts in here pretty much going unseen. This is just as much of the history as anything upstairs.”

The display features an assortment of pieces on loan to the museum by Nick’s widow, Carolyn.

“These are all artifacts she and Nick had,” Sullivan said. “Some are old souvenirs from Mount Rushmore we don’t see anymore. Some are collectables and memorabilia.”

The museum had its own collection as well, some of which needed repair.

“We are still in the process of repairing some of it. So hopefully we will get more out,” said Sullivan about the display.

Sullivan explains to tourists, who might not know, that Clifford was the oldest living carver of the monument.

”Most of the tourists who come here have already been to Mount Rushmore,” Sullivan said. “Hopefully we can polish their historical perspectives here.”

One of the prominent features of the display are autographed baseballs.

“I actually didn't know he was a pitcher,” said Sullivan.

Carolyn explained that Nick was a pitcher, but also a right fielder. Many people think Clifford got hired due to his savvy baseball skills.

“People used to write that Nick was hired because he was a good baseball player,” Carolyn said. “But he wanted a job, too. Keystone had a baseball team ever since the 1900’s before these guys were ever born. So baseball was popular in Keystone where it had a larger population and was just a typical self-sufficient town. Nick was on the baseball team here in Keystone. When Nick turned 17 in 1938 he was hired up there because then there were enough workers up there at Rushmore to make a team. Prior to that they didn’t have enough yet.”

The team was called the Rushmore Memorial Drillers.

Carolyn thinks the display is nice as well as appropriate.

“He was the last one for 12 years and he was definitely representing all the other workers who did not have an opportunity to go to the public and tell their story like Nick did,” Carolyn said. “He was the only one for 20 years up at Rushmore. Keystone was definitely his hometown.”

He also attended school at the museum, which is housed in a former schoolhouse built in 1899.

The basement features several other displays including mining exhibits, rock and minerals from the area in addition to several old advertising posters and pictures from the Black Hills.

There are a lot of donations from A.I. Johnson and his wife, who were instrumental in creating the Keystone Museum.

The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. through 3 p.m. Those wishing to volunteer can email

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