Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse

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Mount Rushmore,
with its carving of presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and
Theodore Roosevelt, is in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota.
Visitors find the sight impressive, but few know that its history
provides a good example of the failure of a government-funded project.

From 1927 to
1941 the sculptor Gutzon Borglum worked on carving the heads of
the four presidents on the mountain. From the start the project
was beset by problems, mainly financial. Of the 14 years of work,
only 6 1/2 were spent on actual carving. In order to raise funds
Borglum personally lobbied state officials, congressmen, cabinet
members and presidents, and eventually, of the total cost of nearly
$1 million, the federal government, i.e. taxpayers, contributed

As often happens
with government projects, Mount Rushmore was never completed. Borglum’s
original design was for a sculpture of the four presidents to their
waists but, we are told, “time and money only provided for their
heads." In addition a planned “Hall of Records” was never built.

A few miles
from Mount Rushmore, by contrast, is an inspiring example of the
power of free enterprise. In 1939 a young sculptor named Korczak
Ziolkowski was contacted by Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear who
asked him if he would carve a sculpture in the Black Hills. “My
fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man
has great heroes also,” he wrote. Korczak had worked for a short
time on Mount Rushmore and had subsequently won first prize for
sculpture at the 1939 World’s Fair for his bust of Paderewski. Intrigued
by the unusual request, Korczak finally accepted the challenge and
in 1948, with only $174 and a dream, he began work on a memorial
to the legendary Chief Crazy Horse.

“Gutzon Borglum
taught me a lot,” Korczak said once. “To not take government money!”
Korczak had seen what had happened with Mount Rushmore and was convinced
that if the government got involved the job would never be completed.
He twice rejected government offers of $10 million. At one point,
when the work was fairly well advanced, he was approached by the
Secretary of the Interior who promised government funds, to be guaranteed
by an “iron-clad contract." Korczak replied: “Mr. Secretary, tell
me about those iron-clad treaties you did with the Indians.”

The Crazy Horse
Memorial, when completed, will dwarf any other sculpture on the
planet. Already it is an
awe-inspiring sight
. Carved in the round, and depicting Chief
Crazy Horse astride his steed, it will be as high as a 56-story
building and longer than two football fields. And the project is
more than just a sculpture. A museum, the Indian University of North
America and a medical training center are planned for the adjacent

Although Korczak
himself died in 1982 the work continues, carried on by his widow
and several of their children. The project has been under construction
for 60 years now, and continues to be financed by admission fees
to the site, the sale of giftware, and private contributions of
money and equipment.

how he devoted his life to a project he would never see completed,
Korczak once explained his amazing dedication in inspiring words:
“The world asks you one question, only one… Did you do the job?
And in my book there’s only one answer: ‘Yes!’ You don’t answer
‘I would have done the job if I’d had the money. I would have done
the job if people had been sympathetic, or understood what I was
trying to do. I would have done the job if I hadn’t gotten hurt,
or crippled’, and God knows I’ve been crippled. You don’t even say
‘I would have done the job if I hadn’t died!’ … I don’t buy it!
There’s only one answer: ‘Yes!'”

Unlike Mount
Rushmore, which is named after a New York lawyer and was paid for
with money taken from the public, Crazy Horse is being paid for
with funds given voluntarily by people who want it to be completed,
even if it is only after they have gone. It is a superb tribute,
not only to Crazy Horse – a genuine American hero – but also to
the private enterprise system itself, and to what a single individual
with a dream can achieve.

Korczak said,
“When the legends die the dreams end. When the dreams end there
is no more greatness.” Anyone interested in helping keep the dream
alive, or just to learn more about the project, should visit

15, 2008

Trench [send him mail]
is a writer and cogitator who enjoys watching and commenting on
the passing show.

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