Diana Lambdin Meyer a RoamRight Blog Author

The Big Question in South Dakota’s Black Hills

Those who work at the Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakotas magnificent Black Hills hear the question dozens of times each day: When will it be finished?

The simple answer is this: Nobody knows.

And the next question is always the same: Why not?

That answer is equally simple: Its a really big mountain.

Indeed, the Crazy Horse Memorial just outside of Custer, South Dakota in the heart of the sacred Black Hills is the largest sculpture project underway anywhere in the world. It dwarfs nearby Mount Rushmore as well as the Sphinx, the Pyramids and the Washington Monument.

How Big is Crazy Horse?

The mountain: 563 feet high

The face: 87 feet high

Eyebrows: 20 feet long

Horse's head: 219 feet high (not complete)

Besides the sheer scale of the project, the mountain is solid granite. Blasting away at that is a tough, yet delicate job. One misplaced piece of dynamite and the entire project fails. Some blasts take away as little as three inches of granite, some several feet. Then you have to clean up the mess, begin measuring again, drilling and blast again. The detail work is done by hand with small drills and other tools designed just for Crazy Horse.

The sculpting team works a minimum of 40 hours a week, sometimes more in the summer months when weather is good and days are long. Winter weather in the Black Hills often suspends work for weeks at a time. It simply takes a long time to make a difference visible to those with an untrained eye.

It also costs a lot of money. Unlike nearby Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial does not receive, nor do organizers want it to receive, any government funding. Its all done by private donations and the admission price when you enter the gate, buy lunch at the cafeteria or pick up souvenirs in the shop.

Crazy Horse - More than a Mountain

While the mountain and emerging figure are indeed spectacular, they are just a portion of what Crazy Horse is about. Now included on the 328-acre grounds is the Indian Museum of North America, an in-depth presentation of the history, art and culture of all North American Indians, not just the Lakota Sioux, whose ancestral homes are the Black Hills and northern Plains.

In addition to the museum, a medical facility and university to serve Native American students is in various stages of service. Since 1978, the Crazy Horse Memorial has awarded more than $1 million in scholarships to Native American students.

The History of Crazy Horse

This all began in 1939 when Chief Standing Bear and other Lakota elders approached Korczak Ziolkowski, a renowned sculptor from Boston who had assisted for one year on nearby Mount Rushmore. Standing Bear wrote: My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes also.

Korczak was intrigued by the project, but his commitment was interrupted by the events of World War II, where he served in the U.S. Army landing on Omaha Beach shortly after D-Day.

In the beginning, Korczak worked alone, out in the wilderness, living in a log cabin he built by hand. He alone carried each tool and each piece of equipment up the mountain. The first blast was on June 3, 1948. More than a year passed before the next blast. Today, when things are humming along, workers blast away big sections of rock three or four times a month.

The project cost Korczak his first wife, but in 1950, he married a young woman who spent the previous summer volunteering at Crazy Horse. Korczak and Ruth had ten children and all worked side by side on the mountain. Today, the third generation of the Ziolkowski family works on the project, along with hundreds of other employees, who welcome nearly 3 million visitors a year to the site.

Korczak and Standing Bear are long gone. Ruth died in 2014, but none expected the project to be finished in their lifetimes.

So when will Crazy Horse be finished?

The simple answer is: Probably not in our lifetimes, but that's OK. The dream continues.

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About the Author

Diana Lambdin Meyer

Diana Lambdin Meyer, a RoamRight Blog Author A Midwest farm girl at heart, Diana Lambdin Meyer caught the roaming bug early in life. Diana married well - to a photographer who also has the travel bug and whose work in still and video complements her words. Now based in the Kansas City area, Diana is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers who makes a full-time living on the road and at the keyboard. Read about Diana's adventures on her blog, Mojotraveler or follow her on Twitter or Google Plus.

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