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Crazy Horse Memorial: A Tale of Two Stories Told in Stone

Written By: Sam Antonio  |  Posted: Thursday, February 9th, 2012

The Black Hills of South Dakota have long been associated with the four U.S. Presidents who adorn Mount Rushmore. The granite faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln have been etched into the American imagination. Yet a fifth granite face has emerged from the Black Hills in the form of the famous Lakota leader Crazy Horse.

Crazy Horse monument, once completed, will be the largest mountain carving in the world. When finished, this three-dimensional carving will stretch 641 feet long and stand 563 feet high. For size perspective of this unprecedented mountain carving, all four granite heads (each 60 feet high) from Mount Rushmore can fit into the head of Crazy Horse, which is almost nine stories tall. The Crazy Horse monument is taller than the Pyramid of Giza (481 feet) and the Washington Monument (555 feet).

The only thing to rival the monumental scale and size of this mountain carving would be the man who had the dream and determination to undertake such a task. For in this stone are two stories: one of the American Indian people and another of the sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski.

A mere 17 miles separate Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial, but their stories couldn't be farther apart. Mount Rushmore took 14 years to complete at a cost of $1 million dollars, of which 85 percent was funded by the government. Crazy Horse is still being sculpted after 60 years. More importantly, the Crazy Horse monument is being built with private donations and accepts no federal funds.

Korczak's Path to Crazy Horse
Born in Boston of Polish descent, Korczak Ziolkowski's path to building the world's largest mountain carving was hard, but one built of character and integrity. He was orphaned at age one and grew up in a series of foster homes. At age 16 he was on his own, working odd jobs and teaching himself to work with plaster and clay, having never received any formal training in art, sculpture, architecture, or engineering. He later moved to West Hartford, Connecticut, where he found success doing commissioned sculpture work throughout New York, Boston, and New England.

In 1939, Korczak's life would change forever as a turn of events would take him from the East to out West. That summer he fulfilled a dream in assisting Gutzon Borglum in carving the Mount Rushmore Memorial in South Dakota. That same year he won first prize at the New York World's Fair for his marble portrait, "PADEREWSKI: Study of an Immortal." This image of the pianist and the politician caught the attention of Lakota (Sioux) Chief Standing Bear, who wrote to Korczak to persuade him to create a lasting memorial to American Indians: "My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes, also."

They decided to carve a monument rivaling Mount Rushmore, featuring Crazy Horse, a Sioux warrior known for his bravery in battle and service to his people. He led a war party at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. He was killed at Fort Robinson by an American soldier while under a flag of truce. Crazy Horse died on September 6, 1877; Korczak was born 31 years later on that same day. Many American Indians consider that an omen that he was destined to carve Crazy Horse.

Korczak put Standing Bear's invitation on hold when, at age 34, he volunteered for service in the U.S. Army during World War II. He landed at Omaha Beach in 1944, where he was wounded. On May 3, 1947, he arrived in the Black Hills of South Dakota to begin his life's work. Nearly age 40, he had no budget, no running water, no electricity, and no home. It was just Korczak and the mountain. As a rugged individualist, he wouldn't have it any other way.

Thus began an epic undertaking that would challenge Korczak. In his work he would endure four back operations, quadruple heart bypass surgery, diabetes, arthritis, a broken wrist, and a ruptured Achilles tendon. But never a broken spirit.

Korczak stated in an interview that what kept him motivated in his work was what a wise Indian had said to him, "When the legends die, the dreams end. And when the dreams end, there is no more greatness."

With a blast of explosives that shaved 10 tons of rock off the mountain, the memorial was officially dedicated on June 3, 1948. Five of the nine living participants of the Battle of the Little Bighorn were present. Korczak promised that Crazy Horse would be more than a mountain carving; it would be a non-profit educational and humanitarian project financed by the people and not with government tax money. He also pledged not to take a salary.

From One to Many
"He was a great believer in private enterprise and individual initiative," Ruth Ziolkowski, Korczak's widow and president of the non-profit Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation, said in an interview with Liberty News Network (an affiliate of The John Birch Society).

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