Crazy Horse: The monument that may never be finished

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:

crazy horse model

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.

crazy horse rock

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…

Looking for more quirky attractions? Read about the exact geographic center of the United States in Kansas and the giant fist statue in Detroit.

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15 Responses to Crazy Horse: The monument that may never be finished

  1. MaryM August 2, 2011 at 10:58 pm #

    Looks the same as when I visited about ten years ago. Definitely worth the trip. The onsite sculpture museum is enjoyable too.

    • Scott August 3, 2011 at 9:00 am #

      Yes, the museum was better than most, had a lot of fascinating items.

  2. Cathy Sweeney August 3, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

    I’d love to see this monument completed. Thanks for all of the background on the project and historical information. Nice post!
    Cathy Sweeney recently posted..Views from POPOS

    • Scott August 4, 2011 at 9:27 am #

      Me too, hopefully they can expand their staff and get moving!

  3. eileen ludwig August 9, 2011 at 11:41 am #

    Love the monuments and national parks and state parks – best idea america has had and love those few politician who have supported the idea for public lands
    eileen ludwig recently posted..Legoland Billund Denmark

  4. Bob Crunch August 11, 2011 at 11:38 am #

    You know, even if never does get finished, the workers working on it could become part of the attraction permanently. It would then have its own unique identity as the monument in progress. Great article!
    Bob Crunch recently posted..Bluegreen Communities and Operation FINALLY HOME

  5. Jaime August 12, 2011 at 8:38 pm #

    My sister actually lived near there for a while and told me about this. I think that is so crazy… Hopefully one day it will get completed~
    Jaime recently posted..Photo Round Up – Week 24

    • Scott August 13, 2011 at 10:00 am #

      If it ever does get finished it will be quite a feat.

  6. Phil November 6, 2012 at 1:16 pm #

    I like the idea of a tribute to Crazy Horse but hate the poem that will be carved into the sculpture. Historical revisionism and slanted perspective will only foster resentment and hostility. The fact is that atrocities were committed on both sides of the conflicts is ignored. Conquest has always been a historical fact and to treat this nation as though it is some kind of hate filled war mongering pariah is just wrong.

    • Scott November 8, 2012 at 11:11 am #

      Well, that’s an interesting justification for genocide.

  7. Talitha January 12, 2013 at 10:25 pm #

    I was there in about 1980ish. Since then the only thing that has been completed is the face. I may have just been a kid then, but I can look back at pictures!! Back then all that was there was the flat spot for the top of the arm and the hole in the middle. So considering thats been over 30 years ago, I would have to say this will never be completed. At least not in my or my sons lifetime! I wonder how many coats of white paint they have slapped on the model of what its suppose to look like?

    • Scott January 14, 2013 at 4:00 pm #

      Wow, it’s amazing how slow this is going. You’d think with all the technological advances, they would be able to work faster. It looks like this will take several more decades!

  8. Tom January 8, 2014 at 9:16 am #

    Not hardly the family is in no rush to complete, even after receiving a 5 million dollar donation. Extremely little to no progress since 1998!

  9. Gary August 26, 2014 at 4:45 pm #

    My wife and I visited the monument in July 1995 on a move from Ohio to Montana. I totally understand about keeping the goverment out of financing, but how about corporate financing in some manner.

    I only wish it could be finished in my lifetime, but maybe in 250 years.


  10. Bonnie September 16, 2014 at 12:12 am #

    In 1955, I was 14, my Polish father wanted to visit Crazy Horse and see what that crazy Polak was doing. So 6 of us took a 2 week camping trip to see that, Mt. Rushmore, Jackson hole and all of the surrounding area. When my eldest son was 14, 1976, we went to see that area with my children. Wasn’t a lot of different in the amount of work that had been finished. I’m 73 now it will probably never be finished in my life time. They really should accept some other financing so they could see Korczak’s dream finished.

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