When I finally made it to South Dakota last summer (state #47 in my travels!), one of the sites I was most excited to see was the Crazy Horse monument.
The reason I was so excited is kind of silly – I had a former job where I regularly interacted with software that showed videos of Crazy Horse. I had to watch those videos hundreds – no, thousands – of times, so actually going to visit Crazy Horse became a really odd thrill.
What is the Crazy Horse Memorial?
Crazy Horse was a famous Lakota warrior who resisted U.S. efforts to take possession of Native American lands, notably at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876.
In a nutshell, the Crazy Horse Memorial is a monument in South Dakota that was started decades ago and is still many, many decades away from being completed. It will depict Crazy Horse riding on (what else?) a horse. When (if?) it’s completed, it will be a ridiculous ten times larger than Mount Rushmore (563 feet high, vs. the Rushmore heads’ 60 feet height.) It may actually be the largest sculpture in the world.
Here’s how the actual site looks now, as compared to a miniature-size model in the foreground that shows how it will look when the work is done:
There once was a man with a plan
The project was initiated in 1939 by Lakota elders, who wanted to create a giant rock sculpture to honor Crazy Horse. They hired Polish sculptor Korczak Kiolkowski, who began blasting away in the Black Hills of South Dakota, often drilling by hand.
Korczak worked on the project his entire life. Considering that he was working either alone or with a very small staff, the progress Korczak made before his death in 1982 was admirable. But if we’re being honest, considering how far the sculpture has to go, Korczak really didn’t accomplish jack. (just kidding… sort of.)
He repeatedly turned down millions in federal funding that could’ve sped up the project, saying that it would compromise the site. His family continues the work, with no end in sight.
Current state of the Crazy Horse Monument
The face of Crazy Horse is now visible, and you can make out the beginnings of the horse. But it’s obvious this thing isn’t anywhere close to being finished.
You can visit the site in South Dakota to see the progress. If you’re lucky, you may even catch the workers blasting away the rock. Visitors are shown a video with black and white clips of Korczak from the old days. It’s a fascinating video that clearly shows the amazing determination of Korczak, who was willing to work for decades on a project he knew he’d never see to the end.
You can touch pieces of rock that have been blasted away from the side of the mountain. And for a small donation – whatever you’re willing to put in the box – you’re allowed to take a piece of rock home with you.
All in all, I dare say the Crazy Horse Memorial is a bit more interesting and educational than Mount Rushmore.
When will it be finished? Nobody knows just yet…