A Vision in Stone

The 5-year-old girl, in a white T-shirt and cowboy hat, approached the woman — more than 75 years her senior — hesitantly. With a tone of reverence in her voice, she asked, “Are you Ruth, The wife of the sculptor?”

Ruth Ziolkowski, dressed in a simple yellow dress, blue checkered smock, and white moccasins, leaned over, extended her hand, and said quietly, “Yes, I am.” Mrs. Ziolkowski put her arm around the child and graciously posed for a photograph.

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(Melanie Heuerman, Ruth Ziolkowski, Tom Heuerman, Warren  Harming)

Only minutes before we had stood on the extended arm of the Crazy Horse Memorial at the top of the 600-foot Thunderhead Mountain and looked at the visitor center a mile away.

Pete — our guide and teacher — and Warren Harming, a member of the Crazy Horse Board of Directors and close friend of the Ziolkowski family, drove us up the mountain.

When we got out of the vehicle, Pete asked us to walk out on the arm and not look back until he told us to. About half way out the 263-foot arm pointed east over the head of Crazy Horse’s horse toward the Black Hills, Pete said, “Okay you can turn around now.”

We turned and looked up at the nine story high head and face of Crazy Horse. “Oh my God” was our instant, involuntary reaction. Another group of people came to the top of the mountain later. As they walked with their backs to Crazy Horse, we watched to see their reactions when they turned. “Oh My God’ was the universal reaction upon seeing the face of Crazy Horse up close.

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In 1947, at age 38, after he served in World War II, and turned down a government commission to create war memorials in Europe, Korczak Ziolkowski arrived in the Black Hills to carve a 100-foot likeness of Crazy Horse.

During his early months in the Black Hills, Korczak sat and looked at the mountain for five days and five nights. We can only imagine what he thought. At the end of the five days he decided to carve the entire mountain not just the top 100 feet. The vision had grown. After all, he said, “I had nowhere to go.”

Crazy Horse would be a symbol: a tribute to all North American Indians. The vision now included a memorial in the round — the largest sculpture ever undertaken, a Native American medical center, a university, and museum. Korczak’s purpose was to give the Native Americans “a little bit of pride and to try to right a little bit of the wrong … [the white people] did to [them].”

Korczak knew he would not live long enough to finish the massive project. So, he and Ruth spent three years detailing three books of plans for the Memorial.

Ruth leads Crazy Horse today. Seven of her 10 children, each of whom left the Memorial to do other things and returned because it was “where they belonged,” keep the dream alive and progress continues. Ruth says it is “not important when it’s finished; the important thing is that work never stops.”

When finished, the Memorial will be 563 feet high and 641 feet long. It will be taller than the Washington Monument and larger than the biggest pyramid. The four heads of nearby Mount Rushmore will fit inside of Crazy Horse’s head.

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Melanie told me after our visit: “I knew you were a believer in the spiritual power of this vision. After seeing this Memorial in person, I am now a believer too.”

3 thoughts on “A Vision in Stone

  1. The Memorial at Crazy Horse is awesome! My husband and I saw it last summer. I am deeply saddened that our government never seems to keep it promises to the Native American Indians. I applaud the work of the Ziolkowski family.

  2. Thanks for this “follow-up” story, Tom. I remember receiving something from you years ago about this amazing sculpture, and it’s great to see it in its current “state” of honoring everyone connected with it!

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