Collections from South Dakota National Parks

National Park Service, Centennial One Object Exhibit

In celebration of the National Park Service Centennial in 2016, this exhibit showcases one object from every national park museum collection in South Dakota. We invite you to explore museum collections from Badlands National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, and Wind Cave National Park.

This triptych includes representations of the two units of Badlands National Park. The first painting (BADL 63274a) shows the view near the Ben Reifel Visitor Center in the North Unit of the park. This view is seen by the majority of the nearly 1 million annual visitors to the park. The other two paintings (BADL 63274b-c) are from the South Unit, located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Visitation in the South Unit is significantly lower than that of the North Unit due to the lack of visitor facilities and the difficulty in accessing the majority of the unit. The remote areas shown in these paintings can only be accessed via two-track roads with a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

Badlands National Park, BADL 63274a: North Unit-Cedar Pass Area; BADL 63274b; Stronghold Unit-Battle Creek and Plenty Star Table; BADL 63274c: Palmer Creek Unit-Campsite location of National Geographic Society Paleontology Dig-Circa 1940.

Except for the entrance areas, most caves are in perpetual darkness, and cavers can only explore new passages by bringing in their own light sources. For over 75 years, the carbide lamp was the most popular and reliable light available. This lamp was used by Jan Cann and her husband Herb as they explored over 60 miles of Jewel Cave National Monument.

Water from an upper chamber slowly drips into a lower chamber filled with small gravel-like chunks of calcium carbide. The ensuing chemical reaction releases pressurized acetylene gas, which is forced through a small nozzle in the center of a polished metal reflector. Swiping one’s palm across a flint striker, mounted on the edge of the reflector, creates a spark that ignites the acetylene and produces a bright yellow-white flame. Properly maintained, the flame can burn cleanly for 3-4 hours. When the carbide is used up, the caver must unscrew the bottom chamber to scrape out the inert calcium hydroxide, and refill the chamber with fresh carbide. The flame length and brightness is proportional to the rate that water drips into the carbide, which is controlled by lever on the top of the lamp.

Over the last 20 years, rechargeable electric lamps have become much more efficient and reliable, and the quality of light now surpasses that of the carbide lamp. They are also lightweight and require very little maintenance. For these reasons, cavers now rely almost exclusively on electric lighting to explore the mysteries of the caves they love.

Jewel Cave National Monument, JECA 5742

The command and control operations of 1,000 Minuteman Missiles took place 24 hours a day, 365 days a year during the Cold War at Minuteman Launch Control Centers. Safe boxes like this one held several sealed authenticators and launch keys. The safe boxes were secured by two separate combination locks. Each of the Launch Control Officers - known as missileers - would have their own separate lock. To launch a missile, an Emergency Action Message (EAM) would have come over the radio with a message the crew had to authenticate. After they agreed that the message was authentic, both crew members would open the safe box.

The missileers would select a specific authenticator and check its encoded message to see whether it matched the Emergency Action Message. Once the crew members agreed that the command was authentic they would insert the keys. The missileers would then strap themselves into their console chairs and begin the final countdown. As the commanding officer called out the alphanumeric codes, the deputy commander would verify and repeat the message: “Bravo” . . . “Bravo” . . . “Alpha” . . . “Alpha” . . . “Lima' . . . ”Lima" . . . At the end of the countdown sequence, the officers would turn their launch keys. This would have meant the launching of up to ten Minuteman Missiles, a nuclear war and the end of civilization as we know it. Today there are still 45 safe boxes in Minuteman Launch Control Centers that contain the codes to launch 450 Minuteman Missiles.

The safe box is a physical representation of the past, present and future history of America's national security.

Donated by Major General Bob Parker, Twentieth Air Force Commander

Minuteman Missle National Historic Site, MIMI 3381

A true "American Treasure" this model was designed and built by Sculptor Gutzon Borglum. The model is approximately twenty-four feet high. Construction consists of a combination of plaster, burlap, and excelsior (wood chips) supported by an arrangement of wooden boards. Sculptor Borglum's medium was plaster because it is easily changed, if necessary, into different configurations. Borglum would find out that many changes would take place during the carving process, a total of nine changes.


The first model consisted of Washington alone then Lincoln was added to Washington's left. Borglum then decided that the position of Jefferson would be on Washington's right. At this point in time Theodore Roosevelt was not included on the model. A problem soon arrived with the carving of Jefferson to the right of Washington. A crack developed in the area that ran through Jefferson's mouth area. The only thing that could be done was to blow Jefferson off the mountain and position him on Washington's left side and move Lincoln further to the left. Borglum adjusted the model by moving the head of Lincoln further to the left and moved Jefferson from the right-side to the left of Washington and leaving a space for Theodore Roosevelt. All the moving of the heads on the model was now completed.


The model is scaled at 1" equals 1'. A metal plate on top of Lincoln's head with degree measurements, used to record the angle of which way you want the figure to face. Out in front, a ruler scaled in inches followed by a plumb bob. Borglum put these three tools together and called it the "Pointing System" By using the pointing system Borglum could record any point on the model and be able to find that same point on the mountain after multiplying studio measurements by 12.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, MORU 1

The object pictured is the original journal of Alvin Frank McDonald. Alvin moved with his family to Wind Cave in 1890 when his father, Jesse D., was hired to oversee the South Dakota Mining Company's “mining claim” at Wind Cave in 1889. Alvin fell in love with the cave and systematically explored about 8-10 miles (13-16k) of passageways. He kept this journal as a record of his explorations. He described his survey of the cave and his naming of the rooms and passageways. He explored the cave with candlelight and rolled out string to mark his way out of the cave. He shared his passion for the cave with visitors by becoming, in his own words, “the Chief Guide” at Wind Cave. The journal is bound in reddish paper with blue cloth binding and prior to conservation there were torn sections of the cover and several pages that were in need of repair. A label above the original cover label has Irene Long's address on it (Irene Long is Alvin McDonald's niece). The journal is quite legible and tells of Alvin McDonald's experiences and investigations of the cave. In September 2010 the diary was sent to the Conservation Center for Art and Historic artifacts in Philadelphia for restoration and duplication. The object was restored and returned to Wind Cave National Park along with a new surrogate copy. The journal and copy are now cataloged as WICA 1101-a and 1101-b. A new display was built in the Visitor Center exhibit area at Wind Cave for exhibition of the original journal during times of high visitation. The original journal was donated to Wind Cave by Inez Foley (McDonald) in Aug. 1981 and was originally cataloged on 25 August, 1981.

Wind Cave National Park, WICA 1101

Credits: Story

Park museum staff from: Badlands National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, and Wind Cave National Park.

National Park Service, Museum Management Program Staff: Amber Dumler, Stephen Damm, Ron Wilson, and Joan Bacharach

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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