Fremont, self-proclaimed "Center of the Universe," is the venue for America's largest statue honoring Lenin.
No, not one of the Beatles, but Vladimir Illych Lenin, hero of the workers, Communism, and the former Soviet Union.
The 16-foot-tall tall bronze by sculptor Emil Venkov originated in Poprad, Czechoslovakia, where it was first erected in 1988. It tumbled along with other heroic (and out of fashion) statues when the Soviets went down in 1989. For a time, the seven-ton Lenin lay face down in the mud at the Poprad dump -- until rescued by American entrepreneur Lewis Carpenter. Carpenter, who admired the artistry, mortgaged his house to buy and transport the statue to Seattle.
Carpenter died in a car accident in 1994. To recover the statue debt, Carpenter's family arranged to loan it to the Fremont district until a buyer emerged. Asking price: $150,000. In 1995, Fremont put the statue up in the center of town, near a Cold War era rocket also displayed as public art.
The statue was controversial and remains so, especially to Russian immigrants. It's as if someone erected a sculpture of a Klansman in the deep South (wait -- someone has), or Chinese Communists sold tickets for a look at Tibetan temples outside Disney World (oh yeah, that too...). Or someone slapped up a statue of Mark David Chapman, assassin of John Lennon, in Strawberry Fields (not so far).
Sure, Lenin the Man endorsed the use of mass terror against his enemies, created the Soviet Union's secret police, and implemented policies that caused millions of peasant farmers to starve to death. But Lenin the Public Artwork is a beautifully crafted sculpture, and a catalyst for healthy discourse.
Today the statue -- still unsold -- is easily visible up the boulevard, past Organic Espresso and Kwangjai Thai Cuisine. He stands in front of a Taco Del Mar restaurant. Locals and passersby pause in his shadow on their smart phones, or rest on the monument steps after a hard morning of shopping. Ironically, the towering foe of free enterprise can't be photographed without Mexican fast food signs around him.
This one seems to say: "Whenever the world is ready for Communism again, freaky lefty Fremont will be there! Please buy this statue."