Woodruff meets the President

Without any way to communicate with the outside world, children in Woodruff had to glean from parents and teachers what life was like outside their little corner of northern Utah. As cars began to appear in town they recognized there was a link to the outside world. A few families had telephones, but there was little actual communication because so few had access to the telephones and children weren’t the primary users.

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That’s why what they read at school and heard about at home were the only ways young people had of understanding the world around them. They knew somewhere east of them was the great city of New York, and even beyond that across the ocean were London and Paris, but they didn’t know anyone who had been to those cities, so they had to believe from outside sources there was a real world outside Woodruff.

When Bill Stacey heard about Mount Rushmore carved into the granite face of a South Dakota mountain he wasn’t sure if it was fact or fiction. For most of his growing up years the rock carvings of four presidents seemed nothing more than a fable.

The sculptor Gutzon Borglum and a team of four hundred workers began the project in 1927 when Bill was eight years old. Borglum headed the project until he died shortly before its completion fourteen years later in 1941. All that time there was never an actual photograph which made it to the little town of Woodruff. No one from northern Utah had ever been to South Dakota, and Bill wasn’t sure exactly what to believe. Even when he was much older he believed it may be merely a good story, although an unlikely one. Who in the world would ever carve the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln into a 5,725 foot granite rock mountain?

After his mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Bill joined the Air Force and entered the ranks of World War II pilots. He didn’t go overseas, but stayed in the U.S. teaching pilots to fly. On April 12, 1945 he was assigned to fly to Madison, Wisconsin on a routine flight. It was an ordinary day, with no expectations of anything unusual. There was considerable cloud cover, and little was visible from the plane.

Bill tried to be aware of his surroundings as he flew, checking to the right or left occasionally. Forced by heavy cloud cover to fly low, he was cautious because of nearby mountains. On one such check, he gasped. There off his right wing, visible as the clouds parted slightly, were the faces of four presidents. “Wow,” he said. “It’s real.”

Bill flew the Boeing-b-17 (Courtesy atomictoasters)

Bill flew the Boeing-b-17 (Courtesy atomictoasters)

His co-pilot Stephanowski was of Polish origin, but an American through and through. “Of course it’s real,” he said. “What did you think?” But Stephanowski didn’t know what it was like to grow up in Woodruff, Utah.

It wasn’t long before Stephanowski spoke again. “I just heard on the radio that President Roosevelt died today, and we just saw him at Mount Rushmore.” It was only in the fourth month of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s historic fourth term, made necessary by World War II.

“I remember thinking the country would fall apart with Harry Truman as president,” said Bill. “I had heard so many bad things about him I didn’t know I would later come to admire him as a great man.”

Years later when he was a taxi cab driver in Salt Lake City Bill saw Harry Truman at the Salt Lake City train station on 400 West. The young man from Woodruff had seen five presidents, but only one in the flesh.