Fremont Troll

November 23, 2009 — We tell our children fables to teach them important lessons about the world that they’re not quite ready for but that if they don’t still pick up pretty quick could really ruin their lives otherwise. Little Red Riding Hood warns them of the dangers of talking to strangers. King Midas cautions them to be careful what they wish for. And the Three Billie Goats Gruff teaches them that toll collectors are evil monsters. It’s the only one of those didacticisms that doesn’t have an exception.

Ever since that tale in which three goats try to cross a bridge lived under by a territorial troll with a taste for chevon, the association of trolls and bridges (it’s a non-profit) has become a common one. Strangely, though, not goats and bridges. While I can’t pretend to know why culture chose to couple one over the other, these days I have a reason to be pretty happy with how it turned out. You see, a goat doesn’t make as awesome a statue as a troll. And although that last sentence is going into my personal sentence hall of fame, I do wish it was more of a general philosophical statement than a literal one.

And somewhere in all the silliness of the past two paragraphs is a segue to the Fremont Troll that I’m too tired to complete.

The Fremont area of Seattle, WA, is full of carefully developed strangeness—signs that present it as the center of the universe; a seven-ton statue of Vladimir Lenin, a 53-foot-tall Cold War era rocket fuselage, and, if Flickr is to be believed, tons of naked bicycle riders...all the signs of a place trying too hard to have an identity. But all its self-proclaimed quirkiness is worth it for its crowning piece of public art...a crowning piece that it shoved right under a bridge.

Rising like an Earth God from the rock and dirt underneath the George Washington Memorial Bridge overpass on Aurora Ave is an 18-foot tall dust-colored sculpture of a bearded troll. Or the torso of one, at least. Made of two tons of ferroconcrete, this massive monster sits under an otherwise boring highway bridge like a scarecrow for homeless people, one eye a hubcap, the other stylishly covered in a waterfall of troll hair, and, in a nice touch that offers scale and connects it to the environment of the street in front of it, an actual Volkswagen Beetle trapped under its left hand.

The Fremont Troll is located at the intersection of N. 36th Street and what has come to be named Troll Avenue N. While I was there, a steady stream of admirers stopped to see it, including one little girl who wouldn’t stop climbing all over it and ruining everybody else’s photos. In retaliation, I ended up Photoshopping her (badly) out of existence. Somebody should have told her that fable. Curmudgeonism aside, crawling all over the creature is encouraged, but when you’re my age and have my level of coordination, that’s not something you can do in front of onlookers.

According to a metal plate affixed to a nearby rock, the sculpture was created in 1990 by Steve Badanes, Will Martin, Donna Walter, and Ross Whitehead and was sponsored by the Fremont Arts Council as part of a competition for a new art project. This design won because, well, I can’t imagine that any other artist came to the table with a two-story tall monster. Those things just win.

Originally, a time capsule was inserted into the Beetle as well that included, according to one of the artists, a bust of Elvis, some ashes of one of the artists’ friends, random drawings, and other stuff that people in the past think that people in the future might value. However, an act of vandalism that caused the time capsule to be minus an Elvis bust caused them to remove it and fill the Beetle in with concrete and sand. The sad part about that story is how much the future is now missing out on.

I hate being able to boil down an entire article into a single sentence, but the Fremont Troll is a pretty cool statue and worth putting on a Seattle itinerary. In fact, I think every town should do this (scare homeless people). Instead of state quarters and official birds, instead of sister towns and fiberglass statue community projects, we really should have state/town trolls. Heck, I'd even take the idea down to the neighborhood level. Customize it according to the whims of your local populace, but remember, it has to go under a bridge and you’re competing with the entire country. We will all judge you by your troll.

That’s about it for this oddity. Incidentally and on a personal note (and I debated with myself whether to mention this, but it’s that important to me), this is one of the few times you’ll catch me wearing shorts. I hate the things and feel like a British school child when I wear them. However, upon arriving in Seattle the night before, we discovered that the airliner had lost our luggage, so I was still in the same clothes that I had chosen for a cross-country flight that I had hoped to sleep through. It’s times like those that I see the advantages of being half buried in the ground.