Carving Out A Legacy
Peeking through the rocks and trees that cover the Black Hills, there’s an image of a Lakota legend named Crazy Horse; pointing to ‘the lands where his dead lie buried.’ The depiction was dreamed up by sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski six decades ago. It’s since become the world’s largest monument, drawing around a million visitors each year.
“To start from pioneering like that and then stand here and look and see all these buildings and to see the work that’s been accomplished on the mountain, there are times it seems like a dream and you don’t believe you’ve really done it, but it’s been an amazing life and I have loved all of it,” Ruth Ziolkowski, Korczak’s wife, said.
Ruth Ziolkowski met her husband when she was 13. Until his death in 1982, Ruth’s work revolved around her husband and their ten kids. Now, it revolves around carrying out his vision.
“He always said that if the project stopped just because he died, his life would have been wasted. None of us wanted that,” Ruth Ziolkowski said.
No one’s letting that happen. Seven of the Ziolkowski children still work in various capacities at the memorial. Casimir Ziolkowski is one of the chief sculptors high atop the mountain. Lately, his main focus has been on shaping the horse’s head.
“I told my dad that I would. And he said if you pick it up and you take it on, don’t ever let it down. It’s kind of like getting married. You get married, you stay married,” Casimir Ziolkowski said.
That perseverance has paid off. Casimir says within the next decade crews should be onto finishing work on Crazy Horse’s hand. Though there’s plenty of work to do between now and then, the Ziolkowskis say it doesn’t matter when the carving gets finished.
“We’re working faster than we have in the past but you still have to remember what Korczak said; go slowly so you do it right. So you try to balance those two things because you have to do it right,” Ruth Ziolkowski said.
The progress continues every day. Crews are up on the mountain year-round no matter the weather. And while it’s obvious to most that this project is indeed a family affair, the Ziolkowskis aren’t quick to take credit for that ongoing progress.
“It’s the regular people that come in from day to day, they’re the ones who built it. They built it sixty years ago and they’re building it today. I think that’s extremely important and I hope that never gets lost,” Casimir Ziolkowski said.
He says those visitors will carry on the goal of finishing Crazy Horse, even if one day, his family cannot.
“I think if every Ziolkowski died today, this will still be finished. It’s a worthwhile enough cause it’s not going to stop, no matter what happens,” Casimir Ziolkowski said.
“The important thing is that we never stop. That’s the main thing. And if you looked at it as strictly a view of being finished, you could get awfully distracted waiting for that day to come. This way, you’re pleased with every little step of progress that you make,” Ruth Ziolkowski said.
And each little step toward completion is a step closer to realizing Korczak’s dream.
Crazy Horse has never taken a dime of government money, but a significant matching donation by T. Denny Sanford will help shape the horse’s head. Memorial officials have until 2011 to match the $5 million he gave; so far, they have around $3 million.