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When asked, ‘Where are your lands now?’, the Lakota Sioux warrior and hero Crazy Horse replied, ‘My lands are where my dead lie buried’.
But let’s rewind…
Anybody remember Norris McWhirter? Roy Castle’s fact-spouting sidekick on the classic TV show, ‘Record Breakers’? I do, and not just for his tasty line in lambswool sweaters. When a kid in the audience asked him, ‘What’s the biggest statue in the whole wide world?’, McWhirter had an immediate answer.
Believe it or not, the biggest statue in the world is a jaw-dropping 52 metres tall and is located in the Soviet Union. Type ‘Motherland statue’ into google and gasp at the pictures.
But McWhirter went one step further, and told us about a sculpting project the like of which the world had never seen before – the Crazy Horse monument in South Dakota. It was unfinished then, and it’s unfinished now. But my imagination was captured by the description of this truly knee-tremblingly huge statue of chief Crazy Horse astride his own horse, locks flowing, arm extended in a defiant gesture – pointing at his lost lands.
The statistics Uncle Norris quoted flew over my head at the time, but I’ll never forget him saying that when the statue is complete, you would be able to fit a two storey house into the horse’s nostril. To me at that time this was just incredible, and to this day the dimensions of the Crazy Horse monument make my head spin and sense of proportion go all hazy.
I was delighted to discover that the family who are working on the Crazy Horse monument have created a bright, accessible and information-packed website for statue junkies like me to drool over. Who needs international jet travel when the www brings gems like this to our desktops? I have spent quite a bit of time on the site and my fascination with the project grows and grows.
The story goes a bit like this:
The Polish sculptor Korzac Ziolkowski was born in 1908. The most famous work he contributed to was the iconic Mount Rushmore monument, in South Dakota’s Black Hills. In 1947, the chiefs of the Sioux tribes asked him to carve a monument to all Native Americans. Legend has it that Korzac turned up for work with a hundred bucks in his pocket and a vision of the world’s most awesome memorial. His first step was to blast 10 tons of rock from the face of the mountain. And then he kept going, for the rest of his life.
When Korzac died in 1982 aged 74, his work wasn’t so much undone as barely begun. The sheer enormity of the project meant that he would never get to see even the rough shape of his dream before he died. But Korzac’s widow, children, grandchildren and many supporters and friends have vowed to see the project to completion. They have set up the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation, a non profit organisation whose aims lie far beyond the physical completion of the monument. The foundation aims to provide education and opportunities for Native Americans, and the entire project has now come to represent the whole concept of ‘following your dreams’, however ambitious they may be. There’s no time scale for completion – it’ll be done when it’s done.
Korzac (a good American!) believed strongly in the free economy, and would not take a penny of government funds, even though he was offered millions of dollars by various bodies. Instead, he financed his project from commercial enterprise and public donations, believing that if the people supported his aims, they would help towards the costs.
Today, the money that the foundation needs comes primarily from entrance fees to the Crazy Horse Memorial visitor centre.
And what a visitor centre! The many pictures on the website show you just how utterly stunning a place this is. Not just a shabby display unit and some tacky souvenirs like the visitor centres we have in this country, the Crazy Horse one has a viewing platform where you can observe work on the mountain as it happens. I’d be more than happy to part with the nine bucks entry fee if my travels ever took me to South Dakota, but in the meantime I’ll be an online tourist and check out the updates on the site.
The viewing platform is located a full mile from the memorial itself – can you imagine? That’s the distance needed to see the whole thing properly. Currently, only the warrior’s head is complete, and stands at a neck-aching 87 feet high. The present work now focuses on the horses head, which will be 219 feet high when complete – or in more easily visualised terms, 22 stories high. Gulp!
Crazy Horse himself was chosen for his bravery and heroism to represent the Native American nation. He died – stabbed in the back by a US soldier – at the age of 35, but had dedicated his short life to the care and protection of his people, and the advancement of their rights.
It is also believed that the Lakota Sioux feel that their sacred lands were violated by the construction of Mount Rushmore. The Crazy Horse monument is in some way an attempt to redress the balance. No matter how you feel about the issues involved in who owns what land, I defy you to visit the Crazy Horse website and not come away humbled, moved and inspired. The two most awesome monuments in the world - Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore - are just 17 miles apart geographically. But the difference in the ways these structures celebrate their respective icons are immense.
The site will tell you all you need to know about the project in stunning detail – and there’s plenty for anoraks and statisticians to get their teeth into. Want to know exactly which kind of dynamite is favourable for the Black Hills rock? Want to know the exact dimensions of what has been achieved so far, and the projected scale of the completed project? It’s all here and more.
But for me the joy is in looking at the pictures. There a finished scale model of the monument – one 34th of the intended size. The pictures of this alone are inspirational! And what visitor centre experience would be complete without a visit to the gift shop? Here you can buy (or browse) heaps of goodies from the educational to the fun and frivolous. You can buy all kinds of stuff made out of rock hewn from the site – how cool is that? And of course there’s a food section too. (Fancy a sip of my herbal tea? – it’s called ‘teepee dreams’).
There’s a fascinating programme of events too – quite often there are night time ‘blasts’ at the monument, and these are floodlit for the enjoyment of spectators (and safety of sculptors too!). I can only dream and imagine what it must be like to stand one mile from the Crazy Horse Memorial, deep in the Black Hills, watching the worlds biggest ever statue being created before ones eyes. Who could possibly fail to be moved by such a sight.
I urge you to visit the Crazy Horse website, and while you’re at it, do some google searches too for more photos and personal accounts of this incredible undertaking. In the meantime I’ll leave you with the words of Korzak himself, who wrote this poem to be carved in three-foot high letters on the side of the mountain beside his proud chief, pointing at his lands:
When the course of history has been told Let these truths here carved be known: Conscience dictates civilisations live And duty ours to place before the world, A chronicle which will long endure. For like all things under us and beyond Inevitably we must pass into oblivion
This land of refuge to the stranger Was ours for countless eons before: Civilisations majestic and mighty. Our gifts were many which we shared And gratitude for them was known But later, given my oppressed ones Were murder, rape and sanguine war
Looking East from whence invaders came Greedy usurpers of our heritage For us the past is in our hearts, The future never to be fulfilled. To you I give this granite epic For your descendents to always know – ‘My lands are where my dead lie buried’