Mount Rushmore Focus of State Historical Society’s Latest Book

Cerasani - Love Letters from Mt Rush (CI)
Pierre, S.D.—Written by former soap opera star Richard Cerasani, “Love Letters from Mount Rushmore: The Story of a Marriage, a Monument, and a Moment in History” is the newest book available from the South Dakota State Historical Society.

Starting with the discovery of an old trunk, Cerasani recounts a previously untold story of love and opportunity set during the carving of Mount Rushmore.

 The story centers on Cerasani’s father, Arthur Cerasani, who worked on Mount Rushmore from March to September of 1940. A sculptor and artist from Rochester, N.Y., Arthur lived in the Black Hills, while his family remained over 1,500 miles away in Avon, N.Y. Over this vast distance, he and his wife Mary stayed connected through daily letters. Their correspondence, presented here with never-before-seen photographs, brings to light the everyday trials of working on the Mount Rushmore Memorial and the strength of the human spirit.

 Despite isolation, spring blizzards, summer heat, and the unpredictable moods and fortunes of master sculptor Gutzon Borglum, Arthur Cerasani manages to grow as an artist and connect with Luigi Del Bianco, Hugo Villa and other carvers of the great monument.

 “Richard Cerasani is telling the story of his parents, but, in the end, he is sharing the experience of many workers on Mount Rushmore,” said Jay D. Vogt, director of the State Historical Society. “By using letters, photographs and art, the author has created an engaging new account for readers about this national monument. It is an important piece of history that, until now, was not available.”

 Made famous by his role as the villain Bill Watson on “General Hospital,” Richard Cerasani is the middle son of Arthur and Mary Cerasani. He has been a professional actor and member of the Screen Actors Guild, Actors’ Equity Association and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists for some 50 years. He acts under his professional name, Richard Caine.

 On the experience of writing “Love Letters from Mount Rushmore,” Cerasani relates, “when I first started this book, Arthur and Mary Cerasani were simply my parents. However, the trunk in the attic revealed a more complete—and complex—picture of the life they had lived for their children and others.”

 “Love Letters from Mount Rushmore: The Story of a Marriage, a Monument, and a Moment in History” is available for $29.95 plus shipping and tax and can be purchased from most bookstores or ordered directly from the South Dakota Historical Society Press. Visit, email or call (605) 773-6009.

Read the press release here.

Praise for “Tasunka: A Lakota Horse Legend” in the Midwest Book Review

Montileaux - Tasunka (CI)

“Tasunka: A Lakota Horse Legend” is a traditional Lakota teaching tale about the significance of the discovery and taming of horses by an early Lakota warrior, on the Northern Great Plains of North America. Filled with vibrant, expressive, carefully drawn illustrations done in the style of Lakota ledger artists’ drawings, “Tasunka: A Lakota Horse Legend” tells the traditional story in both English and Lakota, in simple language filled with traditional storytellers’ fireside styles of intimate, significant communication to the young. In ancient times, a young warrior out hunting discovers evidence of a new, astounding animal. Times have been hard, and the people of his village were hungry. With much careful trailing, observation, and patient domestication approaches, the warrior succeeds in taming and building a small herd of domesticated wild horses, which he takes home to his village. The horses enabled the Lakota people to hunt game much farther and longer, and they prospered with the help of the fine horses. However, they used the Great Spirit’s gift of the horse, Tasunka, to claim new lands and to dominate other peoples. Because of their misuse of the great gift of Tasunka, horses were taken away from the Lakota people. Much later, they returned again ridden by strange white warriors wearing silver armor. The Lakota people once again were able to tame and ride the wild herd of horses, part of Tasunka’s legacy. ” This return of the Tasunka to the plains people was the Great Spirit’s way of forgiveness.” The Lakota once again became wealthy, great horsemen of the plains. The stunning ledger style illustrations add colorful imagery to the spare, descriptive traditional narrative of “Tasunka: A Lakota Horse Legend,” weaving a complex treasure of heritage for children of tomorrow. Each page contains both an English and a Lakota translation of the narrative, ideally written for children age five and up.”


See the review here.

Dakota Midday Interview with Darcy Lipp-Acord, “Circling Back Home”


“As I studied literature in college. . . .  there just wasn’t a lot out there about the woman who tended the home fires, who ran to town for parts, who cooked the meals, who took care of the children. There is a body of literature about the cowgirl who is out there alongside her husband, and that’s honorable in its own right, but I felt like the story of so many women of the plains needed to be honored—because of their importance, not just in an agricultural lifestyle, but any lifestyle. . . .”—Darcy Lipp-Acord speaking about Circling Back Home: A Plainswoman’s Journey on Dakota Midday, 24 February 2014.

Listen to the rest of her interview here.

Darcy Lipp-Acord will be speaking live for the History and Heritage Book Club at three locations via the Digital Dakota Network on 11 March 2014.

  • Pierre:  Cultural Heritage Center, 7PM CST
  • Rapid City: South Dakota School of Mines, Classroom Building, room 109, 6PM MST
  • Sioux Falls: South Dakota University Center, Administration Building, room 145, 7PM CST

Circling Back Home: A Plainswoman’s Journey is available for $16.95 plus shipping and tax and can be purchased from most bookstores or ordered directly from the South Dakota State Historical Society Press. Visit or call (605) 773-6009. For publicity information, please contact our Marketing Director at

New Words, Old Words

In the course of my work making editors’ corrections to the “Pioneer Girl” annotations, I have come across several unfamiliar words. Most of these terms have simply fallen out of usage and been forgotten. Some became clear as I read through the manuscript, but others remain puzzling.

When I first read of a “lunatic fringe” in “Pioneer Girl,” for example, I immediately thought of its modern definition, which refers to a fanatical group. I was surprised to learn, as many Wilder fans may already know, that the term referred to the bangs that fall across one’s forehead. Apparently, this hairstyle was not looked on especially favorably in the late 1800s.

“Fichu” was another unfamiliar word. Laura’s good friend, Ida Brown, gave her one as a wedding gift. The vintage dictionary we sometimes consult here in the office defines a fichu as a small cape, usually made from lace and triangular in shape, similar to a scarf. I also learned that this very fichu is on display at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum in Mansfield, Missouri.

When Laura became engaged, she wore the garnet-and-pearl ring Almanzo gave her on her “first finger.” This one still has me stumped. Did she wear it on her index finger, or was the nineteenth-century “first finger” what we call a “ring finger” today?

I had also never heard of “lawn” in connection with a dress. Laura had a pink sprigged “lawn” dress. I have since learned that lawn is a sheer, lightweight fabric, now usually woven from cotton but, in the nineteenth century, also made from linen.

Laura’s father, Charles, would sometimes sit with the graybeards in the “Amen corner” of the First Congregational Church. I now know that those who led congregational responses or who were especially ardent worshippers would sit in that section.

In These Happy Golden Years, Laura wore her new hat, which she described as “a sage-green, rough straw, in poke-bonnet shape.” I have since learned that a poke bonnet is one with a projecting brim or front, designed to shade the face. “Pie-plant” had me stumped at first, too, but the definition of garden rhubarb makes sense.

Little did I know that working with the Pioneer Girl Project would expand my vocabulary in so many ways.  I’m looking forward to solving the next “word mystery.”


The Holidays Are Upon Us

The holidays are upon us. We’ve lit the Christmas tree and decorated the Cultural Heritage Center in such a way as to put anyone in a joyful mood. If you are in Pierre on the day after Thanksgiving, be sure to stop by the center for the State Historical Society’s annual holiday open house. We’ll have live music, holiday treats, and living-history demonstrations. Santa will also be here to pose for pictures with the children.

I was recently looking through the SDSHS Press titles for descriptions of Thanksgiving past and found a letter in Dancing with Colonels: A Young Woman’s Adventures in Wartime Turkey, the letters of Marjorie Havreberg, in which Marge greets her family in South Dakota, half a world away from where she is stationed in Ankara, Turkey, during World War II.

Marge began most of her letters with the salutation “Dear,” but when corresponding with her immediate family, she always used “Dearest Family.” In her letter of 23 November 1944, she asked what her family planned to do for the Thanksgiving holiday. While she didn’t say it in so many words, the tone of her letter made me think that she was missing the smells, tastes, and conversations of home. She wondered whether the family would have dinner at Lillian’s or “mother’s” and mentioned the pies her mother would likely bring to the festivities.

Marge also described the meal she would enjoy in Ankara, one complete with turkey, cranberries, pumpkin pie, and almost everything else that goes with an American Thanksgiving. The holiday football game between military and embassy personnel had been called off on account of rain, so her Thanksgiving would include movies and dancing. She then wished for snow in Ankara, as “it’s nice and makes me think of South Dakota.” The essence of her letter, though, lay in its salutation—“Dearest Family.” Amidst all of the socializing with those in high places, seeing new parts of the world and the excitement that goes with it, she recognizes what was dearest in her life.

Seventy years later, Thanksgiving Day is much the same—still a day for family, friends, and food. I’m thankful for that. My mother-in-law just telephoned to make sure I knew which pies she was baking, and we will gather as a family on Thursday, just as Marge’s family did. Like them, we will talk about the weather and miss those who are not present. Thanksgiving can still be summed up in Marge’s salutation from many years back—“Dearest Family.” I hope you enjoy yours this holiday season.



Just before Halloween, my eight-year-old son Jacob asked me if ghost towns were where ghosts live. My first thought was that in South Dakota, ghost towns seemed to be places that had lost their courthouses.

I’ve begun researching courthouses for a book that will be out next year, and I am struck by the fact that when a town lost the “county seat war,” it didn’t just lose pride, prestige, or economic advantages, it also lost people, buildings, and often its place on the map. Here is an incomplete list of former county seats that do not appear on the current South Dakota highway map: Bon Homme, Medary, Buffalo Center, Minnesela, Wheeler, Kampeska City, Firesteel, and Bangor. My best guess is that of these eight, only Wheeler, possibly, has any former residents still living. Quite a few of these county seat contestants suffered a tremendous economic blow when railroads decided, for whatever reason, to pass them by. Efforts to move the county government to a town that had railroad service usually followed soon after the railroad’s plans were known. Wheeler’s case was actually unusual—it managed to hold on as the Charles Mix County seat for about two decades after its multiple rivals gained railroad links. In contrast, Kampeska City’s lifespan was only a few months, and its former site is now part of Watertown’s park system.

The citizens of communities contesting for the county seat knew the game was being played for high stakes: how else can we explain the actions of Selby partisans who were not content merely to seize Walworth County’s records from rival Bangor in 1904 but literally tore down the courthouse as well? In 2013, Selby lives on, but Bangor has been reduced to a monument alongside Highway 83. My, what tales the ghosts of Bangor could tell.