Looking for Lenin: An American Dream

Wow, Lenin had lived here?

“I love Lenin – he was such a great guy. His death was a real tragedy”. The man who had just uttered this statement looked slightly taken aback as I spluttered into my beer in complete astonishment at this profound comment. It was after all a bit of an unusual progression in a conversation that had started innocently enough about the weather and “How do you like the town?”

OK, we’d happened to mention him first but this was most unexpected, especially from a random stranger that we’d only just met in a bar.

“This is going to be an interesting evening,” we thought. “Buy that man a beer!” We settled down, ready for a fascinating night, intrigued to find out more about potential covert communism in the good old US of A. The last place on earth we would have ever expected to be having this type of conversation.

“Right, now I’m not sure where it happened or where Lenin’s apartment was exactly but…” Wow, Lenin had lived here? Surely not, but what was it that had happened? He promised to tell us everything he knew and we bought the man another beer, prepared to pay for this priceless information.

“Yeah, Imagine was my favourite song,” the guy happily informed us as he thanked us and said goodbye. A slow, sad realisation dawned that this was after all a case of mistaken identity.

We had only just arrived in town and we had one main focus. Many people go to New York to see the Statue of Liberty; we had come to see the statue of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.

Whether you love, loathe or are indifferent to Lenin, and regardless of the controversy that surrounds him, there’s no getting away from the fact he is still very much in existence, although his numbers are diminishing.

High-fiving the proletariat

Whether it’s a mural, long-forgotten and crumbling in some Russian courtyard, a Soviet Kitsch mug, bust or t-shirt on the Arbat, or one of the many statues still standing around the world (including places such as India and Vietnam), he’s there in abundance, high-fiving the proletariat. He can be seen pointing and looking disapprovingly at many of the churches in the former USSR. He stands pointing at big multinational conglomerates in an ironic twist of communism vs capitalism. His statue stands tallest in Tajikistan. There’s the small – rumoured to be the only life-size – Lenin in Vologda, which is also believed to be the first erected in the USSR in 1924. He has an exotic Silk Road ambience about him in Ashgabat. He looks scholarly in Hanoi. There’s boy Lenin with mother, Lenin with mates, young student Lenin. The list is endless and despite knowing this and knowing that Lenin was in America it was still a surprising and abstract concept to for us to get our heads around.

Our quest to find him had started when we had discovered our first statue brazenly displayed in the Seattle suburb of Fremont. Fremont Lenin is in fact an imported Slovakian Lenin. Interestingly, he is also highly promoted as one of the main tourist attractions in town. This is the first place I have ever seen Lenin proudly publicised alongside of other local greats such as the Troll under the bridge, which is really cool, the 1950s cold war rocket fuselage and the space needle, also cool. He is a fine specimen of a statue and believed to be unique as his base is surrounded by symbolic representations of guns and flames. People have differing views about whether he should be there or not, some find it deeply offensive, some see it as representative of the power, strength and resilience of the USA. It’s not unknown for him to get dressed up in a fetching little patriotic number for the 4th of July celebrations. But, whatever the rights or wrongs of it are, he is there for the foreseeable.

So, Fremont Lenin, number 1, tick. This left only three more that we were aware of to find on our ‘Lenin in the USA’ tour.

Number 2, Atlanta city, was long gone, along with the eatery he had once stood outside of.

Number 3, Las Vegas, we discovered, was apparently just the headless remains of the body outside a casino. The head had been removed, mafia execution style, and was now stored in a walk-in freezer as some sort of macabre joke – allegedly. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to confirm this.

This left us only number 4: Lenin in New York.

There he was, like a mirage

With not particularly high hopes we pounded the sidewalks endlessly. We got to the point where we started to wonder if yet another photo of yet another Lenin statue was really worth all this agony.

But then, there he was, right in front of us, magically appearing like a mirage, waving from his lofty position high up on the roof top of an apartment block, which was aptly named Red Square.

It has been suggested that he isn’t waving at all and that it looks like he is in fact hailing a cab. Or waving at Wall Street. Standing in front of a big clock, at a certain angle his raised arm also appears to be mirroring one of the hands, by design or by accident. Look a bit closer at the clock and you suddenly realise that the numbers are mysteriously nonsensical.

As far as Lenin statues go this is perhaps the craziest one so far and ironically, America is the only home he’s ever known. He was commissioned back in the USSR, but the Soviet Union collapsed before he could be unveiled. Imagine that!

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