Crazy Horse Memorial a ‘family affair’
The Crazy Horse Memorial is a work of art for generations of Americans to enjoy, says the original sculptor’s widow.
Korczak Ziolkowski began the project honoring American Indians in South Dakota’s Black Hills in 1948. After his death in 1982 at age 74, his wife, Ruth, and their children continued the project, which is the world’s largest sculpture.
Each year 1 million visitors come to see the progress.
“The majority of our visitors are families. What tickles me are the young people who come in usually with mom and dad, who were here when they were the same age as their youngsters,” said 81-year-old Ruth. “It’s become a family affair.”
In some cases, four generations of families have visited the site.
“It’s gotten to be a big extended family. It really has,” she said.
The Ziolkowski family is still heavily involved. Seven of the Ziolkowskis’ 10 children work in the operation, which includes a huge museum complex featuring a movie theater, American Indian art and artifacts, and gift shops.
The biggest question surrounding the project is how many more generations will come before it’s completed.
No one knows for certain, Ruth said.
“That can lead to some interesting conversations, because Mr. Ziolkowski never would put a date on it or time. He was a lot smarter than I am, so I’m not about to. People will ask if they will live long enough to see it completed, and I’ll say, 'I have no idea how you are going to live.'
“But the important part is, we keep on working. As long as it continues to make progress, that is the thing that will get it finished.”
The memorial is near Mount Rushmore, which honors U.S. presidents and was carved by Gutzon Borglum. Rushmore's sculptures would fit in the carved head of Crazy Horse.
Unfortunately, many people compare Mount Rushmore with the Crazy Horse Memorial, Ruth says.
“People naturally are going to compare. You’ve got two mountain carvings within 17 miles of each other. But that’s not the whole object. It doesn’t make any difference which is bigger. Each one tells a part of history, and each one is important,” she said.
Ruth said her husband wouldn’t have been able to start his massive mountain carving if not for Borglum having created Mount Rushmore.
“He had the greatest admiration for Mr. Borglum. And Mr. Borglum’s son Lincoln became a friend of Korczak when he came out here to carve Crazy Horse,” she said.
The progress was painfully slow at the start, when Korczak would carry his equipment and blasting materials up a series of ladders to the top of the mountain. Today, new technology, such as the global positioning system, is speeding up the work.
“I just wish Korczak was here to enjoy all of the wonderful new equipment that we have,” Ruth said.
Some equipment has been gifts from large companies, including Caterpillar, which provided a $500,000 grant and matching funds for donations from employees and dealers.
The rest of the funding for the project comes from public donations.
“It’s amazing how many (visitors) say they are tickled it is private enterprise and not (funded by) the federal government or state government; that it is being done with individual initiative.”
Donors receive a computer-generated thank you letter from the nonprofit memorial foundation — and a little something extra.
“I think that is a cold hunk of equipment,” Ruth said of the computer. “So down on the bottom (of the letter) I get to sign every one of them and write a note.”
A thank you for generations of support.
Contact Doug Goodman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ON THE WEB
For more information about the Crazy Horse Memorial, go to CrazyHorse.org. The site includes a Webcam that is updated every 30 seconds.
MIRACLE AT MEMORIAL
The Crazy Horse Memorial museum includes a photo of Miracle, a white buffalo born in 1994 on a Janesville, Wis., farm. A five-paragraph story below it explains that the birth of a white buffalo symbolizes peace and harmony to many American Indians.
Miracle’s owners, Dave and Valerie Heider, had visited the memorial and became friends with sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski’s daughter Ann.