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The Crazy Horse Monument in South Dakota: Started in 1948, may take another century to complete

Goran Blazeski
Photo Credit Cheryl Kohan - CC BY-ND 2.0

Statues, monuments, and memorials have been erected by humans since ancient times, with many of them becoming an integral part of our history and culture over the centuries. The list of impressive monuments from around the world is quite long, yet few of them are as impressive as those carved into stone mountains. Many of these jaw-dropping works of art created out of the natural landscape have become symbols of entire countries, attracting thousands of visitors.

You have probably heard about Mount Rushmore, the colossal 60-foot faces of American presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt, but in South Dakota’s Black Hills, not far away from Mount Rushmore, there is another imposing monument known as the Crazy Horse Memorial. As described on the official website of the project, it is a memorial for all Native American tribes and it is considered The Eighth Wonder of the World in progress.

Lakota warrior Crazy Horse who was a leader of the Lakota Sioux has long been a controversial historical figure in North American history. He is remembered as a dedicated fighter for the preservation of Native American traditions and is considered a key factor in the defeat of George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

Korczak Ziolkowski began work on Crazy Horse Memorial in 1948. Once complete, this tribute to the Lakota leader will be the largest mountain carving in the world.

Alleged photo of Crazy Horse in 1877

Alleged photo of Crazy Horse in 1877

Lakota Chief Standing Bear and sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski started the project in 1946 by identifying Thunderhead Mountain as the ideal place to create the Crazy Horse Monument. The first explosives were detonated in 1948 when the project officially began. It’s likely to take more than a century to be completed.

It undoubtedly deserved its title of being The Eighth Wonder of the World in progress since it will stand 641 feet long and 563 feet tall, which makes it the largest sculpture in the history of mankind. The head alone is nearly 30 feet taller than the heads of Mount Rushmore. It’s taller than the Washington Monument and well over two football fields wide.

The Crazy Horse Memorial in 2010. Photo Credit

The Crazy Horse Memorial in 2010. -By Tbennert – CC BY-SA 3.0

Chief Henry Standing Bear, who was the leader of the Lakota tribe, didn’t like the Mount Rushmore National Memorial which was completed seven years before The Crazy Horse Memorial project began and decided to ask Ziolkowski if he could carve a monument in honor of a Native American legend. Ziolkowski accepted his offer and worked on the carving until his death in 1982 at the age of 74, sixteen years before the face of the carving was completed.

“He believed you can do anything in this world. Nothing is impossible as long as you’re willing to work hard enough and pay the price,” the sculptor’s wife, Ruth told the NPR back in 2013. She continued with the project from the 1980s to the 2010s as a president and CEO of the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation.

She focused on Crazy Horse’s face and not on the horse as her husband planned. Ruth Ziolkowski died 21 May 2014, at the age of 87. Seven of her ten children work on the project even today.

Crazy Horse Memorial. Photo Credit

The Crazy Horse Memorial. – By jimbowen0306 – CC BY 2.0

Many descendants of Crazy Horse think that the monument is in a way offensive to their culture. For example, Elaine Quiver, a descendant of Crazy Horse, in an interview with Voice of America, said that Standing Bear had no right to order the monument.

“They don’t respect our culture because we didn’t give permission for someone to carve the sacred Black Hills where our burial grounds are,” Quiver said. “They were there for us to enjoy and they were there for us to pray. But it wasn’t meant to be carved into images, which is very wrong for all of us. The more I think about it, the more it’s a desecration of our Indian culture. Not just Crazy Horse, but all of us,” she added.

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After 50 years of work, Crazy Horse’s 87-foot head was completed in 1998, but no one knows exactly when the entire monument will be completed.

It is now nearly seven decades in the making. In comparison, most historians say Egypt’s Great Pyramid took about 20 years to finish.