Families logo

Mount Rushmore and My Experience as an Autograph Stalker

How I Met a Living Piece of History

By T.D. ZummackPublished 2 years ago 10 min read

I’m a collector. I collect things. Superhero things, sports memorabilia, Louis L’Amour books to name a few, but the main thing I collect is autographs. I have probably close to three hundred in my collection and I have painstakingly put the vast majority of them in frames and hung them on the walls of my house. I would like to say that my collection was one day going to be the largest contributor to my retirement fund but sadly that is not the case. In fact, I used to call it my wall of semi-quasi-famous people I had met. You know, back when there weren’t a lot of extremely famous signatures on it and back when it was just one wall.

I used to spend a ridiculous amount of time combing through newspapers, both for photographs of people I might one day meet and also to find listings of upcoming events where these people might be. Kids, newspapers were where people got their information before Google, and it used to require time and effort. I would try and scrounge up enough cash to attend these events and then do my best to weasel just enough face time with my chosen target to get the coveted signature. Over the years my collection grew but it grew slowly and deliberately. Landing my job at our local airport has helped my collection grow exponentially as now I just have to know who’s in town, when they’re leaving, and don’t necessarily have to find the money to attend their event, just try and snag a signature as they’re leaving. Sometimes I get lucky and recognize someone that I didn’t know was in town and can catch them as they are getting ready to board as well. Long story longer, I have a lot of signatures from people of various levels of fame gracing the walls of my home.

My family has been drawn into this as well as most times I drag them with me to the events that I do attend in order to maximize the autograph collecting potential. It’s nice to have four or five other people there to hold places in line and things of that nature to minimize the wait and spend your time gathering the coveted signatures. I know what you’re thinking, who cares that much about a signature on a piece of paper and, for the most part, I would agree with you. I’m not even sure how it started, but I can tell you my first (Lisa Brokop, country singer for those that don’t know), where and when I met every single one of the people whose names I have collected, and the story behind how I got them. Some people collect stamps or comic books, I collect pieces of scrap paper with names on them. I can’t tell you my most famous because things like that get judged on different scales by different people depending on what their interests are, but on any scale I’m sure William Shatner is close to the top of the list.

I do have rules that I try and follow as strictly as possible. Understanding that some of these people are hounded quite frequently I ask for a signature only if they have the time and sometimes a picture if they are receptive to the autograph request. I try and have signatures of only people I have met personally. Some friends and co-workers try and help me out by getting signatures for me if I’m not there but having the signature without meeting them kind of defeats the purpose. I also ask for only a single autograph and every signature that I get I keep; I don’t try and sell them on eBay or at some auction somewhere. I’m not trying to make money off someone else’s name, I just want the record that I have met them. I can honestly say that I have had very few people who were annoyed or unwilling to give up the autograph, most have been very pleasant in spite of some of the horror stories you here about celebrities and their prickly personalities.

It was the summer of 2019, and our family was taking its first epic summer trip together. My wife and I packed our three children in our Dodge Journey and headed out for a two-week adventure across a large chunk of the western United States. We started with two days in Yellowstone National Park and then headed to Las Vegas for four days. I was excited for the possibility of meeting a celebrity or two as Vegas is usually crawling with them at any given point. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be as I didn’t catch even a glimpse of anybody even semi-quasi famous. We then took the long way around to the Grand Canyon and made our way back up to Denver, Colorado. It was a seventeen-hour driving day and as you can imagine there was no one famous in our vehicle so no autographs that day either. After four days in Denver, including an amazing concert from Billy Joel in Coors Field, it was time to start making our way back home. The journey home included a stop at Mount Rushmore. The monument really is quite intriguing and the story of how it was built is fascinating.

If you have been to Mount Rushmore sometime before 2019 you have seen the gift shop. It’s a pretty typical little shop with all the different types of souvenirs a tourist could want in order to immortalize their visit. What made this shop particularly interesting to me was a simple set up they had with a single chair and table. On the table was a stack of books that had been written by a gentleman named Donald Clifford who went by the name Nick. Nick was ninety-eight years old and was the last surviving person who had actually carved on Mount Rushmore. He liked to visit the gift shop and sign copies of his book for interested parties. Someone who was a living part of history definitely qualified for my collection as far as I was concerned but Mr. Clifford was unfortunately not there at the time we were visiting. I asked at the counter if Mr. Clifford may be appearing at all that day and was told he only appeared on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. This day was a Saturday and therefore we were out of luck.

“Sometimes he gets bored at home and then he shows up here on the weekends, but usually not until mid afternoon.”, the staffer added to our conversation. On the off chance that he might show up this day, that meant we had a few hours to kill. We packed everyone up again and headed down the road to visit the Crazy Horse Memorial. After our time there we headed back to Mount Rushmore to see if we might have some good luck and meet Mr. Clifford. There was no sign of him at his table, but as we milled around, we thumbed through a few copies of his book and discovered that they were already signed in advance by Mr. Clifford. There it was, the signature of living history right in my hands.

“Do you want to buy it?”, my wife asked.

“I’m not sure.”, was my response. I really wanted the signature but remember the rules I laid out earlier, the signature has to come with an in person meeting or what’s the point. “Let me think about it.”

We milled around the store some more while I pondered the situation. I was torn and stated to my wife, “I really want to meet him if I’m going to get the autograph, that’s the whole point.”

“I know, but it would still be pretty cool to have.”, she reasoned with me. She had been exposed to this part of my life since our second date when I dragged her to collect signatures after a celebrity charity hockey game. She knows the rules and knows how single-minded I get in situations like this.

“If he comes here regularly then he probably lives somewhere close. Maybe we could drive by his place and see if he wouldn’t mind signing it for me there.”, it was more of an out loud thought experiment than anything else.

“We are not stalking a ninety-eight-year-old for a signature, besides, you don’t have his address.” That was it, she had now thrown down the challenge. I walked away for a few seconds and, this my friends, is where Google came in handy. Within a few seconds I had two possible addresses that were both within a short drive.

I walked back to my wife and showed her my phone. “Two possibilities. Both pretty close. We could just swing by and see what’s what.”

“Are you serious? We can’t stalk this poor guy.”

“Well, I’m driving and if the car just happens to cruise by those places, then so be it.”, I laughed a little at the situation.

We purchased the book and with my wife reluctantly agreeing to it, we set out to find the two addresses. It turned out that we didn’t need two. The first address was clearly the right one as there was a little historical marker sign on the front yard detailing that this was his house, and his name was decaled on both sides of the car parked in the driveway. I parked out front. “He clearly likes to be recognized, should we knock on his door?”

“It’s his house, I doubt he wants strangers knock…”

“There’s someone in the yard there.”, and with that I cut her off and was out of the car to chat with the woman who had appeared in the yard.

I asked if this was the house of Nick Clifford and she stated that it was. I asked if he was home and was again met with an affirmative answer. I explained the situation, showed her the book, and asked if we might be able to meet him and have him sign it. She joyfully said yes and told me to bring my family around to the back of the house. I returned to the car.

“Everybody unbuckle, we’re going to go in and meet him.”

“Wait, what?”

“She just told me we could come in and meet him.”

“You’re serious, we’re doing this?”

“You didn’t think I was serious when we were sitting out in front of his house?”, I chuckled. “Let’s go.”

We were invited into a small room in the back of the house where Mr. Clifford was sitting either watching TV or listening to the radio, I can’t remember exactly. I shook his hand, explained that we were on vacation, showed him our copy we had purchased, and stated that I really wanted to meet him. Mr. Clifford was genial, and very gracious with his time. He wasn’t stand-offish at all, in fact our picture with him looks more like a family picture with a grandfather than it does someone meeting a strange family for the first time. He told a short story about his time on the mountain and then he signed some baseball cards he had that had his picture from when he was on the Mount Rushmore ball team. He gave one to each of the kids. It was one of the best experiences I’ve had in collecting an autograph and it’s definitely one of the craziest stories involved with my gathering of a signature. We share the story all the time and it always gets a chuckle or two.

It was a hectic trip, highlighted by a glaring example of my obstinate and dogged pursuit of an autograph, even while on vacation. I wouldn’t change a thing.

I was saddened to learn that Mr. Clifford passed away in November of 2019, just three short months after we had met him, but the news made me all the more glad that I had been so obsessive in obtaining his autograph. It was an experience that my family won’t forget and gave us a Rushmore experience that no other family has. It was an amazing summer vacation and that just made it all the more special.

You can’t make up those memories.


About the Creator

T.D. Zummack

I'm a 48 year old aspiring writer who has finally taken the time and put in effort to make the dream come true instead of just keep wishing it. I currently have 2 books available on Amazon, 'Amazing Grace' & 'The Brand of Brotherhood.'

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights


There are no comments for this story

Be the first to respond and start the conversation.

Sign in to comment

    Find us on social media

    Miscellaneous links

    • Explore
    • Contact
    • Privacy Policy
    • Terms of Use
    • Support

    © 2023 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.