Original image

The Unfinished Tribute to Crazy Horse

Original image

This week, David Clark is our tour guide as we take a closer look at some of America's greatest monuments. His series continues today with the story of a monument-in-progress, the unfinished tribute to Crazy Horse.

If everything goes according to plan, by the twenty-second century America's largest monument won't honor any presidents, and won't glorify the Republic's early history. It will be the most immense statue in the world "“ 563 feet high and 641 feet long "“ and it will depict a native warrior who lived and fought as an enemy of westward imperialism and a fugitive from the US government, who was driven from his people's land and, after his surrender and imprisonment, surreptitiously murdered by US soldiers.

The gargantuan Crazy Horse Memorial, carved out of a mountain in the Black Hills just southwest of Mt. Rushmore, will certainly remind us that "the red man had great heroes, too" -- as Chief Standing Bear of the Lakota Sioux intended it to -- but it will also conjure all the fierce brutality and shameless injustice of American history, the kind of bloodstains that are scrubbed off our most well-known monuments. The image of Crazy Horse is at once a symbol for the many virtues of the Native Americans and for the many savage sins of the United States.

Korczak Ziolkowski's No Indian-Lover

In the 1940s a group of Lakota chiefs decided to counter the iconography of Mr. Rushmore with a mountain sculpture of their own, in honor of those native civilizations that the US government and the apotheosized Presidents had systematically conquered. The chiefs found their craftsman in a Polish-American named Korczak Ziolkowski, who was out west already to work on Mt. Rushmore and relished the chance to devise and execute a colossal carving on his own terms. Ziolkowski didn't consider himself "an Indian-lover," in his words: rather, he was "a storyteller in stone" who respected the Lakota and their hero and understood the broad significance of a Crazy Horse monument. So the chiefs got their sculptor, and Ziolkowski got his life's mission.

Ziolkowski.jpgZiolkowski scouted a site -- the sacred mountain of Paha Sapa, also known as Thunderbird Mountain -- and set to work in a wilderness without company or even roads (he had to bulldoze the first ones himself). He spent the remainder of his days, from 1949-1982, clambering on the rocks like a grey-bearded mountain goat, plotting and drilling, blasting, shoveling, and bulldozing -- "carving" on the largest possible scale.

The unkempt sculptor exuded vitality; he carried himself as a cheery, rough-tongued, hard-drinking mountain man, an icon in his own right for the rugged individualism of the western "white man" -- the cowboy, the settler, the prospector. He knew he had the talent for a more prosperous and celebrated life in the arts, but was fully devoted to the monument, the setting, the work, and the lifestyle. "I'm the world's biggest chiseler," he boasted. "I've got $23 dollars in my bank account . . . If I had stayed in the East I'd be a millionaire fancy-ass sculptor today."

While almost single-handedly shaping the mountain, Ziolkowski suffered quite a few injuries, including two heart attacks. Once, his son Casimir mis-steered a tractor over a 170 foot cliff, tumbled through the air right over Korczak's head -- and luckily planted on the only soft dirt heap in sight, miraculously unharmed. After all this, Ziolkowski managed a peaceful death, and was buried in a tomb he blasted for himself at the base of the mountain, knowing he wouldn't live to see Crazy Horse finished.

Early on, Ziolkowski's first wife had joined him out in the Hills for a short time, then promptly divorced him. Apparently, the idea of wearing her life out with an eccentric dynamite-nut stranded in backwoods didn't appeal to her, once she'd given it a try. The second wife worked out better: she endured, even thrived, and after Korczak's death has been managing the project with the help of their clan of children (7 out of 10 are still working on or for the Memorial). There's a visitor center and a museum at the base of the unfinished sculpture, which opened to educate the public and raise funds for continued work. In fact, Ziolkowski refused to accept government funding, fearing the Feds would hijack his vision, so the Crazy Horse Memorial is all privately funded by donations and visitor fees.

Crazy Horse's nine-story-tall face was finished in 1998. There's a catch, though: nobody knows exactly what Crazy Horse looked like. Whether the warrior chief refused to have his photograph taken for fear that it would steal his "shadow" and shorten his life, as one story goes, or he just didn't care for the artistic medium, Crazy Horse left no (definitive) photographic remains. (There are plenty of "reputed" but unproven photos of Crazy Horse circulating today.) Ziolkowski, therefore, intended to fashion a nonspecific face to represent the Idea of Crazy Horse -- a symbol rather than a mimetic likeness.

The Controversies, The Ironies & The Paradoxes

Plenty of controversy seethes around the Memorial. In the beginning, some local people opposed the project for racial reasons, and even went so far as to vandalize Ziolkowski's smaller works out of spite. While racist opposition has faded in time, other forms continue. Some Native Americans protest that blasting images into their sacred mountains is no way to honor their cultures and traditions, regardless of whose faced is chiseled out in the end. And others wonder why Lakota chiefs conceived the project without the permission of Crazy Horse's family, or why the Ziolkowski family seems to control the whole project (and handles all the funds). Still, none of the trouble has halted the work, which continues today and will keep on indefinitely.

The Crazy Horse Memorial is a tangle of paradoxes and sobering ironies. The largest sculpture in America will honor a people the United States trod over, a man the government captured and killed. The four heads of Mt. Rushmore -- heroes of the white Republic -- will be overshadowed by a larger-than-life reminder of one of the Republic's greatest crimes. A lone Polish-American immigrant will have been the primary architect and sculptor of a tribute to Native American history, community, and values. And the colossal form will depict a man who was wary of photographers, of whom no unequivocal image survives. [Images courtesy of]

Previously: The Statue of Liberty, The Washington Monument, The Gateway Arch

Original image
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Original image
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.


"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.


"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles


"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole


"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles



"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole


"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles


"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."


A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
Original image
Getty Images
40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
Original image
Getty Images

Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.


More from mental floss studios