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Giant Spearfish Jesus: Aesthetics, Theology Dictate Placement on Lookout Mountain

Spearfish developer Rand Williams bought the old Passion Play grounds last fall. He plans to rename the facility the Lookout Amphitheater. And he wants to give visitors something to look at: a giant statue of Jesus.

Rand Williams, a Spearfish real estate entrepreneur, said he is envisioning a multimillion-dollar statue along the lines of Rio de Janeiro's Christ the Redeemer, a 125-foot tall statue that draws tourists to the Brazilan city, that would sit on a two-acre parcel of city land.

...He proposes an international design competition that would be paid for through private fundraising. He also wants to put it on the city-owned park land just up the hill from the 6,000-seat venue, which will be renamed Lookout Amphitheater.

The small park currently contains a replica of the Thoen Stone and offers a scenic view of Lookout Mountain, where the historic artifact from 1833 was discovered [Mary Garrigan, "Spearfish Man Wants to Resurrect Christ on the Mountain Project," Rapid City Journal, 2013.02.21].

Jesus. Your Lord Jesus staring down at all of us Spearfishers all day and all night, with glowing red eyes to keep the airplanes away. Or maybe with the airplane beacons in his hands, to show the stigmata.

Let me set aside my obvious queasiness with grandiose public piety and try to take a more... catholic look at this plan. If we want a giant Jesus in Spearfish, we don't want him standing on the hill south of Williams' amphitheater, for one simple reason: lighting.

Proposed statue of Jesus near old Passion Play grounds, Spearfish, South Dakota
Proposed statue of Jesus near old Passion Play grounds, Spearfish, South Dakota

Put a giant tourist attraction up near the Thoen Stone monument, and for most of the day, visitors and passersby on I-90 will see Jesus as a backlit dark angel of doom. Williams and the Chamber of Commerce will get out at dawn to take the best photos possible and touch them up in Photoshop. But tourists won't flock outdoors at sunrise. They'll come through town at lunch or after, they'll squint into the sun, and they'll say, "Gee, it's big, but it doesn't look as impressive as it did in the photos."

From a design perspective, the obvious location for Giant Jesus is where God and Passion Play founder Josef Meier intended: the top of Lookout Mountain.

Proposed giant Jesus statue on Lookout Mountain, Spearfish, South Dakota
Proposed giant Jesus on Lookout: much better lighting

Ah, the lighting! From mid-morning on, Jesus gives good face. At sunset, as people sit at Williams's amphitheater and glance up from the show, they'll see their Lord gazing down in his full golden glory. He'll be much better framed against the cerulean heavens atop this peak than He will on the gentle, undramatic slope south of the amphitheater, where He'd have to compete with all those cool monuments His Dad built (i.e., the Black Hills) in the background. And he'll be much closer to I-90, better able to remind drivers from Beulah to Sturgis to be careful.

Hearty pilgrims seeking to touch Jesus in concrete will find His placement on Lookout much more satisfying. We have to work for salvation, and a hike up to the Thoen Stone location isn't that much work. You park in Rand's nice parking lot, you stroll up a wide path on a gentle grade for hardly a quarter mile, and you're there. No big whoop.

Climbing Lookout Mountain is a much better pilgrimage for the penitent. You climb 800 feet. You scramble up some rocks. You break a sweat. You ascend by your monumental effort to the mountaintop, into the heavens, into the favor of your outstretched-armed Lord.

Jesus on Lookout—He'll look better, and you'll look better climbing to Him.

And for Christ's sake, don't forget the neon:



  1. mike 2013.02.24

    I am all for statues and monuments westriver. Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse and Jesus. It only makes sense. In fact let's come up with a few more. It will give people the option of taking a circuit tour through the area to see every site.

  2. Vincent Gormley 2013.02.24

    Too funny! How about a giant wingnut!

  3. grudznick 2013.02.24

    I would be for this, especially if it had glowing red eyes, except for the city park thing. Why is your god going into my friends' city park, I would ask.

  4. Taunia 2013.02.24


    I bet SD Indians won't be nearly as impressed.

  5. Douglas Wiken 2013.02.24

    Perhaps condom sellers and guns and ammunition sales and manufacturers will kick in some cash for Jesus. I would think even churches might have a few concerns about commercializing Jesus at some time other than Christmas or Easter.

    South Dakota needs a monument to Soupy Sales, Sid Caesar, and all the other comedians who personify the way things work in state, county, and city governments here.-

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.02.24

    Taunia, the only consolation I can think of for our red brethren is that at least Jesus wasn't a white Anglo Saxon Protestant invader like those fellas on that other mountain.

    Douglas, I would hope someone other than this atheist can react with a little queasiness to this commercialization of Christ.

  7. grudznick 2013.02.24

    Of course there is also the defacement of another mountain where there will in 100 years be carved a likeness of a man who never allowed his picture to be taken. And he is tossing in his graves today.

  8. Winston 2013.02.24

    Will it be large enough to be seen from the windows of the Rapid City Council Chamber windows?

  9. Bill Fleming 2013.02.24

    Every mountain in the Black Hills is already sacred. Putting idols on them profanes them. Think 'mosque on Temple Mount.' Why add further insult to injury?

  10. JoeBoo 2013.02.24

    I love this idea, not so much the statue of Jesus, but the court case that will come with it, and then how South Dakota will look like this bible pounding state and how South Dakotan's will think they are cool because of it, while everyone out of state will laugh at us.

    The other view is its one way to put Spearfish on the map.

  11. WayneB 2013.02.25

    Apparently we've forgotten what it means not to have idols... *sigh*

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