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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Korczak Ziolkowski

"When the legends die, the dreams end.
When the dreams end, there is no more greatness."

- Korczak Ziolkowski (1908 - 1982)

I had no idea that there was any other epic monument carved into the black hills of South Dakota besides Mt. Rushmore. And I had definitely never heard of Korczack Ziolkowski when I checked out a documentary from my college library in the late 80's about Crazy Horse. Ever since seeing that documentary, I have been inspired by this Polish sculptor named Korczak who's spirit dwarfed his astoundingly ambitious vision.

Korczak was born in Boston and orphaned at the age of one. His talents as an artist developed quickly. After being a ship builder and furniture maker, he took first prize for a bust of Paderewski in the 1939 world fair. That same year, he became the assistant to Gutzom Borglum, the sculptor and visionary behind Mt. Rushmore. With his growing reputation, he was sought out by Chief Henry Standing Bear to create a similar memorial in the sacred Black Hills to let the white man know that the red man has heroes too. They agreed upon a tribute to Crazy Horse, an Indian warrior who died in captivity in breach of a truce with the white invaders.

Korczak originally planned on creating a monument 100 feet tall - a full 40 feet taller than the gargantuan 60 ft. tall presidential heads of Mt. Rushmore. After all, there were 400 workers working on Rushmore for 14 years, and there was only one man working on Crazy Horse. But once he got started in 1948, somehow, he decided that he was going to carve the whole mountain. The ENTIRE mountain. One man, a not so dependable air compressor, and a 741 stair commute to work, Korczak Ziolkowski commenced on an effort that was so huge, he knew it would take GENERATIONS to complete.

His fearlessness and passion to do the impossible was so inspiring to me that I started to believe that all things really were possible. This man's conviction in the face of a general consensus that he was a lunatic for attempting this feat, his unwavering focus on his goal while fully knowing that he would not live to see the completed work, and his gentle mountain man encouragement to everyone else who has a dream, made him a towering icon in my own pantheon of heroes.

Notice the archway, about 4 MILES in front of the Crazy horse monument,
that encourages "Never Forget your Dreams"

So my amazing girlfriend, in celebration of my 40 birthday (that you all have so kindly reminded me about), took me on a mystery trip recently where we ended up at this magical place that represents in my mind the best qualities of the human spirit - fortitude, integrity, passion, focus, adventure, fearlessness, and inspiration. The Crazy Horse monument is simply staggering in person. The head of crazy horse is large enough to enclose ALL OF MT. RUSHMORE!! Though very much a work in progress, to date they have moved over 9 MILLION tons of rock. And though Korczak died about a decade before I had ever heard of him, his family continues work on his monumental monument with the benefit of modern equipment and the financial support of the interested public. (Though he was offered $10 Million dollars on two different occasions from the US Government to aid in the completion of his project, Korczak refused the money as he wanted it to be funded entirely by the "Interested Public".) No one has any idea how much longer it will be before the monument is completed. It will likely be decades - maybe even generations from now. But one thing is for sure, it will be completed. Because even though this movement began by one man, over sixty years ago, working alone for many years on a rock so big that progress has to be measured in tons and decades, it is still fueled by such epic passion that makes all things possible and a faith that lives on - to literally move mountains.

All Things Possible!