I’ve been to South Dakota twice now. The first time was in 1996 and as we were roaming from one remarkable sight to another, we dismissed going to see the Crazy Horse site since they had barely begun carving. There were so many other sights to see!
This time, we started our South Dakota adventure from Custer and came across a sign for the Crazy Horse Memorial. We’d just started vacation. Why not start here?
We could see the carving of Crazy Horse from the parking lot. But it was so incomplete. We felt like we could almost visualize what it might look like, but wanted to go inside and learn more. The Visitor’s Center is a museum of the Crazy Horse Memorial’s history. We started by watching the short film in the theater and it was ABSOLUTELY FASCINATING!
It was narrated largely by Ruth, the wife and mother of the entire Ziolkowski brood that were raised alone on a rocky mountainside that Korczak was blowing apart with dynamite.
The entire family pitched in to help with the monumental undertaking. They were home-schooled and very self sufficient. The family fell into their roles toward accomplishing Korczak Ziolkowski’s vision of Crazy Horse.
The film included interviews with several of the family members who still make their livelihood working on Crazy Horse. Seven of the 10 Ziolkowski children are business managers, explosives experts, restaurant managers, etc.. The privately-funded sculpture & education center is still very much a family project. That was never more apparent than when we went into the onsite restaurant and saw the family members gathered around the table having what appeared to be a staff meeting.
We listened to music, examined artifacts, took home a piece of the rock’s rubble and examined the bulldozer that Korczak’s son Casimir accidentally drove off the cliff. His father’s reaction?
“You got it down there, now you get it out.” And Casimir, tough mountain boy that he was, did!
Korczak considered himself a “storyteller in stone.” The Polish-American carver had worked on Mt. Rushmore, but was eager to do something bigger; to create a masterpiece of his own vision. Doing so required that he build stairs up to the top of the mountain rock, and build a homestead for his family before he could ever start working on his art. He often went up and down the 741 rickety stairs with tools and supplies over his shoulder several times a day to set the stage. It is mind-staggering to think about.
We came back later that night since our ticket included that experience, too, and watched the laser light show on the side of the Rock. It explained the history of the area and the Native American culture that still inhabited the area and the nearby Pine Ridge reservation.
The laser show might have been better if it hadn’t been a little cold & rainy. But we sat through it all because we were still so in awe of the Crazy Horse Memorial story. The memorial won’t be finished in my lifetime. But I would love to go back to South Dakota in another decade or so and continue the watch the progress. I wish we’d stopped back in 1996, too.
Have you heard much about the Crazy Horse Memorial?