Published on March 4, 2014 by Amy
The Crazy Horse Memorial is a mountain monument complex that is under construction on privately held land in the Black Hills, in Custer County, South Dakota. It depicts Crazy Horse, an Oglala Lakota warrior, riding a horse and pointing into the distance. The memorial was commissioned by Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota elder, to be sculpted by Korczak Ziolkowski. It is operated by the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation, a private non-profit organization.
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The memorial consists of the mountain carving (monument), the Indian Museum of North America, and the Native American Cultural Center. The monument is being carved out of Thunderhead Mountain on land considered sacred by some Oglala Lakota, between Custer and Hill City, roughly 17 miles from Mount Rushmore. The sculpture’s final dimensions are planned to be 641 feet (195 m) wide and 563 feet (172 m) high. The head of Crazy Horse will be 87 feet (27 m) high; by comparison, the heads of the four U.S. Presidents at Mount Rushmore are each 60 feet (18 m) high.
The monument has been in progress since 1948 and is far from completion. If completed, it may become the world’s largest sculpture, as well as the first non-religious statue to hold this record since 1967 (when it was held by the Soviet monument The Motherland Calls).
In 1929, Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota elder, initiated the project to honor Crazy Horse by writing to the Polish-American sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, saying in part, “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, too.” The American sculptor had worked on Mount Rushmore in 1924 under Gutzon Borglum. Standing Bear and Ziolkowski scouted potential monument sites together. Ziolkowski suggested carving the memorial in the Wyoming Tetons where the rock was better for sculpting, but the Sioux leader insisted it be carved in the Black Hills, which are sacred to Lakota culture. After making models, Ziolkowski started blasting for the monument in 1948.
The memorial is a non-profit undertaking, and receives no federal or state funding. The Memorial Foundation charges fees for its visitor centers and earns revenue from its gift shops. Ziolkowski reportedly was offered $10 million for the project from the federal government on two occasions, but he turned the offers down. He felt that the project was more than just a mountain carving, and he feared that his plans for the broader educational and cultural goals of the memorial would be overturned by federal involvement.
Ziolkowski died in 1982. Sixteen years later in 1998, the face of Crazy Horse was completed and dedicated. The entire complex is owned by the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation. Ziolkowski’s wife Ruth and seven of their ten children work at the memorial. Their daughter Monique Ziolkowski, a sculptor, has modified some of her father’s plans to make the sculpture work better. The foundation commissioned reports from two engineering firms in 2009 to help guide completion of the project.
The memorial is to be the centerpiece of an educational/cultural center, to include a satellite campus of the University of South Dakota, with a classroom building and residence hall, made possible by a US$2.5 million donation in 2007 from T. Denny Sanford, a Sioux Falls, South Dakota philanthropist. It is called the University and Medical Training Center for the North American Indian and the Indian Museum of North America. The current visitor complex will anchor the center. Sanford also donated $5 million to the memorial, to be paid $1 million a year for five years as matching donations were raised, specifically to further work on the horse’s head.
Paul and Donna “Muffy” Christen of Huron, South Dakota in July 2010 announced they are donating $5 million in two installments to an endowment to support the operation of the satellite campus. It holds classes in math, English and American Indian studies courses for college credit, as well as outreach classes. The memorial foundation has awarded more than $1.2 million in scholarships, with the majority going to Native students within South Dakota.
The foundation sponsors Native American cultural events and educational programs. Annually in June, the Memorial hosts a Volksmarch, when the public is permitted on the mountain. Attendance has grown to as many as 15,000.
Much of the earth-moving equipment used is donated by corporations. The work on the monument has been primarily supported by visitor fees, with more than one million people visiting annually. The visitor center contains many pieces of rock blasted from the mountain: visitors may take samples in exchange for a small donation.
The Memorial began its first national fund drive in October 2006. The goal was to raise $16.5 million by 2011. The first planned project was a $1.4 million dormitory to house 40 American Indian students who would work as interns at the memorial.
Periodically the memorial publicizes blasting events, which attract thousands of people from all over the region. They may wait for hours as the clock counts down. The gala ends in numerous near-simultaneous detonations, and a great tumbling of rocks and dust down the mountain.