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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 $836,000.

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 land.

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.

Discussing 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 www.crazyhorse.org.

May 15, 2008

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