Notable Black Hills People-Korczak Ziolkowski
Written by By: Alan Leftridge (The Best of the Black Hills)
June 24, 2018

A Bostonian of Polish ancestry, Korczak Ziolkowski was an acclaimed sculptor who devoted the second half of his life to carving the Crazy Horse Memorial.  The project was (and still is) a mammoth undertaking that only an experienced carver could attempt.
Ziolkowski learned how to use heavy construction equipment from his foster father and began wood carving at an early age.  While in his twenties, he turned to sculpting marble, which brought him acclaim throughout New England.  At the 1939 New York World’s Fair, Ziolkowski won first prize for his marble statue of Polish pianist and politician Ignacy Paderewski.  Gutzon Borglum hired Ziolkowski that same year to assist on the Mount Rushmore project.  His employment was cut short when he volunteered for service with the U.S. Army during World War II.
Chief Henry Standing Bear became aware of Korczak’s achievements and invited him to carve a mountain memorial to Native Americans.  Ziolkowski agreed to the project after several years of discussion.  He began work, using explosives to blast pieces from the mountain, on May 3, 1947.  Already forty years old he knew that he would never finish the memorial-his family would inherit the monumental task.  He died in 1982 at age seventy-four, having worked on the mountain for thirty-five years.  He is buried in the tomb that he and his sons blasted from a rock outcropping at the base of the mountain. He wrote his own epitaph for the tomb door and cut the letters from steel plate.
Each year, Crazy Horse Memorial has two night blasts that include specially designed pyrotechnical features that light up the mountain. The first night blast of the year is June 26 to celebrate the birthday of the late Mrs. Korczak (Ruth) Ziolkowski (1926 - 2014), wife of the late Korczak Ziolkowski.  The June 26 blast also commemorates the anniversary of the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876. The battle was June 25, 1876.  The second traditional night blast of the year is on September 6th. The blast honors the dual anniversaries of the 1877 death of Crazy Horse and of the 1908 birth of sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski.

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