The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on June 4, 1998 · Page 16
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 16

Salina, Kansas
Issue Date:
Thursday, June 4, 1998
Page 16
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C4 THURSDAY, JUNE 4. 1998 NATION THE SALINA JOURNAL The late Korczak Ziolkowski started the Crazy Horse memorial 50 years ago knowing he would never see it completed. But his family has carried on the project and on Wednesday unveiled the chief's head. Family follows father's dream that was I N CARVED Photos by The Associated Press Sculptors climb near the eyes of the Crazy Horse memorial on April 15 as they prepared for the unveiling of the face on the 50th anniversary of the project's beginning. Crazy Horse memorial is 50 years in works; many more lie ahead By SHARON COHEN The Associated Press CRAZY HORSE, S.D. — The wind is whipping up a raw chill on the mountaintop, but Casimir Ziolkowski stands defiantly, ready to blast into tons of rock, to burrow his way closer to his father's dream. "Fire in the hole!" he shouts, then repeats it twice in rapid succession. KABOOOHHM!! A split-second rumble. A flash of fire. A cloud of smoke. Nearly a quarter-million pounds of granite cascade in a thun- " dering avalanche from the base of a • colossal stone jaw. When the dust settles, a somber face ; emerges, nine stories high. • It's Crazy Horse, the proud Sioux . chief, carved in stone, the first stage in a , memorial that will someday embrace the sky at 563 feet and become the largest sculpture on Earth. It all began 50 years ago this week, when a man known by one name, Korczak, single-handedly blasted 10 tons of rock off Thunderhead Mountain. He had promised to build a monument to the American Indian, and there he was, . pushing 40, with little money, starting a job that would consume the rest of his life. Now others are keeping his word. More than 8 million tons and 16 years ! after Korczak's death, seven of the sculptor's sons and daughters and his widow, Ruth, are carrying on. On Wednesday, the golden anniversary of that first blast, they unveiled Crazy Horse's face. On an earlier blustery spring day, bundled in layers of flannel, a cigarette dangling from his lips, Lilliputian under the 87 Vi-foot-high head, Casimir surveys the blast results like a plastic surgeon checking his handiwork after the bandages are off. Fifty years down, who knows how many more to go. Fifty? A hundred? Casimir, who has been chipping away since childhood, isn't counting. "I figure every day I work, we're one day closer to being finished," he says with the calm deliberation of a man who has learned to measure progress in decades. "I don't have to know where the end is —just that we're one day closer." A noble purpose To whittle a mountain into a work of art is like creating a modern-day Sphinx or Colossus of Rhodes. For the Zi- olkowskis, that single, seemingly impossible job has become the family business. When completed — no one says the word "if" around here — Crazy Horse will sit astride his stallion, his left arm, almost as long as a football field, outstretched, pointing to his Sioux burial grounds. The memorial will be bigger than the Washington Monument, bigger than the Pyramid at Giza. So big, in fact, that the four presidential heads on Mount Rushmore, 17 miles away, could be stacked inside the warrior's head. So big a five-room house would fit in each of the horse's nostrils. Money and nature will determine how many generations this will take, but everyone in the Ziolkowski clan is convinced that one day it will be done. "There's absolutely no doubt, and Casimir Ziolkowski, who directs the explosives crew, walks away from the face of the Crazy Horse memorial. The Crazy Horse memorial is being carved from Thunderhead Mountain in South Dakota's Black Hills, which the Indians consider sacred. there never has been — not even a tiny little scintilla," says Ruth, the 71-year- old widow who guides the carving from the log house her husband built. That attitude can be traced to the always-confident Korczak. "He really believed in what he did and made the people around him believe in it," says his daughter, Monique. Korczak Ziolkowski (pronounced kor-jock jewel-cuff-ski) was a prize-winning East Coast sculptor who had worked briefly on Mount Rushmore when he accepted an invitation to create a memorial for the Indians. "My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes, too," Chief Henry Standing Bear of the Lakota tribe wrote in seeking his help. The Indians chose the spot, the sacred Black Hills. They chose the subject: Crazy Horse, the shrewd tactician who helped lead the charge against Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer at the Little Bighorn. Their choice of a sculptor was a Boston- born artist who never took a formal art lesson, a character more flamboyant than any Hollywood screenwriter could invent. Korczak was an orphan who fathered 10 children; he played and worked with them, teaching them the rules of baseball as well as the rules of life. Ruth, who met Korczak when she was 13 and joined him here as a 20-year-old volunteer, describes his ethic: "He said, 'If you like what you are doing and are happy doing it, work is not a chore.' " He preached tenacity, too. "All our lives we were taught that if you start something, you finish it, or at least you keep working at it," says Casimir. Seven of Korczak's children are trying to finish what he started — but that would rankle the perfectionist in him. "He thought it should be all 10," Ruth says with a smile. "I think seven is an amazing number." The children, mostly in their 30s and 40s, say their father never pressured them to pick up where he left off. But they did, out of dedication and a desire to continue the family legacy. "Every time I went anywhere, there was no fulfillment, no reason for me being there," says Casimir, 44, a one-time rebel who dabbled in the oil fields and construction. "I always knew in my heart that this is where I belonged." Not that he didn't have doubts. "When I was 16 years old," he recalls, "I was sitting on the edge of what would be the finger (of the memorial) and I thought, This is NUTS! There's nothing but a massive amount of rock. We'll never be able to do this.' That was the only time I thought that." His father seems to have anticipated this moment of questioning, even if he himself had neither doubts nor regrets. In 1952, he wrote a letter to his children, most of whom had not yet been born. In it, he freed them to go their own way but said if they stayed with Crazy Horse, it should be for the right reasons. "The purpose of Crazy Horse is noble," he wrote in the letter, which is still read at family gatherings. "There are many people who do not see its nobility at present, and even in your time — and maybe in your children's time — the vision of Crazy Horse might be clouded to some people; but if you wish to dedicate your life as to carry out my dreams ... they will then also be your dreams some day." Carrying the father's dream Today, that dream is being shaped by the hands of the second generation. Casimir is an explosives engineer who works with the crew of about a dozen that measures, drills and blasts. Most workers are experienced mountain climbers. Six hundred feet below, his brothers and sisters work in the office, the studio and other parts of this remote compound. Adam maintains roads and does carpentry. Dawn manages the summer visitors center. Mark heads the timber management program. Anne is the curator of a growing Indian museum. Jadwiga, 45, helps run day-to-day affairs and organizes special events at Crazy Horse, which draws more than a million tourists a year. She left the mountain to attend college in Wyoming, becoming the only child with a diploma, but she too, returned. "I learned enough to know that I didn't like it," she says of the outside world. "I believe we are all fortunate we were left with this job." Her sister, Monique, 37, is a mountain pointer, plotting precise measurements from Korczak's l/34th scale plaster model. These are enlarged, then transferred to the carving. She is a sculptor, too, though she shied away from creating when her father was alive. "He made me too nervous," she says. But she always remembers one tip he gave her. "He said, 'First you start with a nose in the middle of the face and the soul comes after. You've GOT to put the soul in there.' " Though the Ziolkowski children speak with pride of their father, growing up with a man obsessed with a mountain wasn't easy. There were tough times making ends meet — Korczak never took a salary — and at school in town the kids were teased about their father's granite dream. But they were a close-knit family. For a time, they ran a dairy farm and a lumber mill, and the children attended a one- room schoolhouse Korczak bought and relocated to the mountain. When home'became a tourist attraction, everyone from rocket scientist Wernher von Braun to actor Henry Fonda stopped by. So did Cecil B. DeMille. The director of movie spectaculars, who parted the Red Sea in "The Ten Commandments," cocked an eyebrow when he saw Crazy Horse and declared: "And I thought what I did was big!" Korczak refused offers of potential federal funds; no hat-in-hand begging in Washington for him. But he did eventually accept contributions and charge entrance fees — now $7 a person, $17 a carload. About $22 million has been spent on everything from buying land and equipment to digging wells and paying salaries. Knowing he could never finish what he started, Korczak planned for his death. With Ruth's help, he assembled three spiral notebooks of measurements of the mountain that guide everyone today. And he warned against haste. "Go slowly," he said, "so you do it right." Above all, he urged, continue without him. "If this project stops just because I die, my whole life will have been wasted," he told his family. "I cannot carve Crazy Horse from the grave."

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