Daily Archives: September 23, 2009

Chiseled In Stone


Crazy Horse Memorial: model in foreground, mountain sculpture taking shape

Crazy Horse Memorial: model in foreground, mountain sculpture taking shape

What possessed him?  Why did sculptor Gutzon Borglum think it was a good idea to carve massive likenesses of four U.S. presidents into the side of a mountain in South Dakota?  Part of the answer is that he was paid to do it; he already had some renown for grand-scale carving elsewhere.  His project at Mount Rushmore may also have been inspired by his fascination with what Borglum’s wife described as “the emotional value of volume.”  In other words, sculpted sixty-foot heads on a mountainside have a much greater “wow” factor than twelve-inch busts in a museum.

Whatever drove Borglum also seems to have influenced another (lesser-known) sculptor to attempt an enormous monument to the Native American chief Crazy Horse.  That project, still underway, is just down the road from Mount Rushmore.  Sally and I visited both; following are excerpts from my journal of September 19, 2005: 

Our hotel had promised a free continental breakfast, but they hadn’t specified which continent — it could only have been considered lavish in parts of Asia or Africa.  There was an assortment of “pastries” that looked as if someone had sat on them.  We picked through the meager selection and found a few items that looked edible, ate them, and got out of the tiny eating area as quickly as possible.

By nine a.m. we were off to Mount Rushmore, which enabled us to get a prime parking place.  There is a big parking structure, several stories high, just down the hill below the Memorial… The main walkway, leading past restrooms and a gift shop, continues through an arcade of flags of the fifty states and then terminates at what they call Grandview Terrace.  The view is quite grand from there, and we took our first daytime photos of the presidents.  For the record, they are (left to right) Washington, Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Lincoln.  Incidentally, for the first time ever, the monument had just been given a thorough cleaning only last month.

Directly underneath Grandview Terrace is a museum.  In it we saw a film about Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor who envisioned the monument and supervised its creation.  We learned, among other things, that he died in 1941, just before its completion…

Our first car hike of this trip was through the beautiful Black Hills.  It was a very well maintained highway, as most of the roads in South Dakota seemed to be, and it led us to the Crazy Horse Memorial, seventeen miles from Mount Rushmore…

The self-styled “Storyteller in Stone”, sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, had been approached by Lakota chief Henry Standing Bear — the official story goes — to commemorate their great hero.  Korczak began work on the memorial in 1948 and died in 1982, but his wife and seven of his ten children are still involved with the project.

When completed, the likeness of the Native American warrior will dwarf the sculptures of the presidents on Mount Rushmore.  The head alone is something like 8 stories high, and his outstretched arm is 227 feet long.  The whole thing will be 563 feet high and 641 feet long.  As of 2005, about all that is done is the head, so when it is ultimately finished, I expect to be over two hundred years old.  We took a few photos, so that someday our descendants can see what it looked like back in the 21st century…