The memorial to Crazy Horse in the Black Hills of South Dakota has been controversial and 64 years in the making. So, what’s taking so long?
"The organization is not trying to be difficult or using delaying tactics," Patrick Dobbs, spokesman for the Crazy Horse Memorial, told CNN recently. "There are project unknowns and circumstances beyond control that influence the work."
He said harsh weather and the mountain’s iron content, making it tough to carve, have made the project take a long time. Though there is no deadline, so there’s no rush.
Polish sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski started work on Crazy Horse in 1948 after being asked by Henry Standing Bear, who was chief of the Lakota at the time to create it. “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, also,” Standing Bear said in 1939, according to the Crazy Horse Memorial website.
But Crazy Horse descendants feel the chief didn’t have the right to ask that such a thing be done. Elaine Quiver, a descendant of Crazy Horse, told Voice of America in 2003 that Lakota culture requires consensus among family members, but nobody asked his descendants.
"They don't respect our culture because we didn't give permission for someone to carve the sacred Black Hills where our burial grounds are," Quiver told Voice of America. "They were there for us to enjoy and they were there for us to pray. But it wasn't meant to be carved into images, which is very wrong for all of us. The more I think about it, the more it's a desecration of our Indian culture. Not just Crazy Horse, but all of us."
Another issue is the money. According to CNN, the nonprofit project is funded entirely by donations and admissions fees. A 2010 New York Times article reported that admission revenues that year brought in $3.8 million and donations over the five years prior totaled $19 million.
There are also visitor centers and souvenir shops at the memorial which generate revenue. Seth Big Crow, whose great grandmother was Crazy Horse’s aunt, wonders whether the sculptors family has lost its way.
“When you start making money rather than to try to complete the project, that's when, to me, it's going off in the wrong direction,” he told VOA in 2003.
According to the Crazy Horse Memorial website there is no completion date set for the carving. The site notes that when Ziolkowski died in 1982, he told his wife: “You must work on the mountain—but go slowly so you do it right.” The site even calls it a “project that will never end” even after the carving is finally done.
When it is done, the mountain carving will be 641 feet long by 563 feet high. Crazy Horse’s head alone is 87 feet tall. Currently, work is being done on the horse’s head, which will be 219 feet, or 22 stories high.
To compare, the heads of Mount Rushmore, which was started in 1927 and completed in 1941 for $989,992, are 60 feet tall.