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?
We went several years ago, and judging from your pictures there hasn’t been any progress on his memorial. I’m in awe of the Native American heritage, so being there was almost like a religious experience.
I agree, Peggy. It was a spiritual experience. I think it was the highlight of our trip to South Dakota this time, but I’ll have to go again in my lifetime to see more unfold.
Thanks for the update, Juliann. As I recall, Peggy and I drove by the monument in 1999 but didn’t go in. It is a magnificent undertaking, no doubt about that. –Curt
I’m not sure there would have been much to see then. But it would be nice to chart the progress, even if it’s only in our minds.
It’s a monumental task for a family to undertake. That’s for sure.
Stories like this are so inspiring. To see people who have such a strong vision that they’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen — makes me think that all the excuses I have for not starting/completing certain projects are so flimsy by comparison. Would love to see another update the next time you go!
The film in the Visitor’s Center was riveting. The hardships and endurance that it took to even begin this endeavor are mind-boggling. It makes me feel inadequate for abandoning projects so easily, too, but then none were as monumental as this. But still…
I have not been, however; it is a great area of the country to explore. Happy Adventuring . . . Happy Day – Enjoy!
That’s so interesting that the family that made the monument is still the family that cares for the site. Talk about seeing a project through!
Now that both parents have passed away, I think it’s such a wonderful tribute that the children carry on with the dream.
I have heard about Crazy Horse for years and never realized the scale of the project. They are really intending to carve the entire mountain side. I don’t think there is any project in the world that is operating on this scale. I didn’t realize that it was almost entirely a family affair. WOW.
That’s exactly right. It will be the largest monument in the world. I can not even imagine it completed. I hope the family continues to persevere as the generations grow. It’s a remarkable achievement.