Mini-Stories: Volume 11

Lenin or Bust by Joe Rosenberg

In 1958, more than fifty years after humankind reached the South Pole, Soviet scientists became the first to visit the even-harder-to-reach “Southern pole of inaccessibility.” That’s the point on Antarctica that is furthest from the ocean. Once there, the Soviets planned to set up a research station, but at 12,000 feet and -58°C, the place proved so inhospitable that they gave up after only 12 days.

Before the Russians left, however, they left a bust of Lenin on top of their station’s chimney.  This particular Lenin bust was not much to look at, but like a gargoyle on the top of a cathedral, it really wasn’t meant to be seen up close. More important was simply knowing that it was there, perhaps pleasing to the eyes of God, or in this case, the dialectic materialist forces of Marxist-Leninism. The Soviets even made sure to orient the bust so that it would forever face toward Moscow.

The southern pole of inaccessibility — including its modest Lenin bust — wasn’t visited again by the Soviets until the late 1960s, shortly after which an American research team dropped by, climbed up the pedestal, and repositioned the bust so that Lenin now faced toward Washington, DC.  Upon learning of the Americans’ antics, the Soviets came down one last time just so that they could swivel him back again toward Moscow.

After that, the world’s loneliest Lenin was left to the elements for another half-century, during which time the Soviet Union collapsed and most of the world’s other Lenin statues met their ignoble end. Whether the bust at the southern pole of inaccessibility had itself been toppled by Antarctic conditions, no one knew for sure — until 2007, when an international team of adventurers finally returned to the station and discovered that the bust was still hanging in there, more or less.

Most of the pedestal had been buried under decades of accumulated Antarctic snow, making the Lenin at the pole of inaccessibility slightly more accessible. Visitors could now walk right up to it.  But this shift may not bode well for the bust’s future. The pole has been visited a handful of times since then, and each time, the ice has encroached further — presumably, it will at some point become entirely buried.

In many ways, this drab, generic Lenin (with its standard-issue defiant expression) is the perfect statue for this place. Even as the ice creeps up, it seems defiant. Perhaps someone could rescue it before it’s too late, but to remove it from its location would be to erase what makes it special. It would go back to being just another generic Lenin bust. Better arguably to leave it there, and let the encroaching ice finally render it truly inaccessible.

  1. Mac

    I’m dying. That songsmith commercial and the creepy christmas tree song.

    Also, how do we get ahold of Sean’s dice song-writing game? Can it be a prize for the next fund drive or something? I want it so bad.

  2. Andy

    Did you know story of the resurrected (or re-erected) Lenin statue located in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle?

  3. Massimo

    This podcast is awesome! I really enjoy the short stories… (a blue Yoda…What?!) I’ve discovered your podcast thanks to my english teacher and the transcript is so useful ;D .. so I have just one question.. You’ll publish the transcript also for this episode? Thank you and a huge bravo from italy!

  4. Ki

    Sean’s mention of the dice game reminds me of a mechanic in the podcast Bombarded. It’s a DnD podcast where every member of the party is also a bars. The players are bandmates and roll dice for a song each episode. As the party goes further in the journey, more dice rolls are added to modify aspects of the song. It’s a really cool idea and the application is marvelous.

  5. Christian

    An entire bust-in-the-middle-of-a-wasteland story without an Ozymandias reference? Someone needs a stern talking-to.

  6. As usual, I love y’all’s work.
    A comment: please be conscious of using “Soviet” and “Russian” interchangeably. The Soviet Union was compromised of many nations and ethnic groups. Unfortunately, because Russians were the powerful majority, many people’s identities and contributions are regularly erased.
    Thanks for what you do.

  7. Anne Allen

    Great show! Felt like Roman was back on his game this episode. He seemed a little checked out on the last one and I was worried. I have loved this podcast so so much. It is my go to when I need something interesting, need to unwind, need to avoid coronavirus news, and need something even the kids will enjoy in the car. The rest of my family listens too and we call each other about after particularly good episodes.

  8. Adam

    More fun with radiators: My office is in a building in NYC’s garment district, so the entire floor was at one time probably a big open space where clothes were made (some might say a sweatshop), but now it’s divided up into lots of offices of various sizes. I’m lucky that my company is in an office on the outside of the building, with a window, which means also with a radiator (I never knew before why it’s silver!) and because it was designed to heat a whole building it gets so f***ing hot in the winter. The windows technically do open but we’re not supposed to open them. It is one thing I haven’t missed about working from home this winter!

  9. Joanne in Canada

    Thanks for the transcript. I couldn’t decipher “ Kitchen Sisters ” even at a slower speed! 8^D

  10. Jen

    It’s not germ theory that the “fresh air” movement was going after – it was carbon monoxide poisoning. Think about it – every source of light, every source of heat, sucked up oxygen and put out carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. Fire places. Stoves. Gas lighting. Candles. Oil lamps. Every source of heat and light put off fumes and made things unhealthy.

    Old homes were drafty because they had to be, for safety. You needed fresh air or your light and heat sources would kill you. You needed to be aware of carbon monoxide poisoning or those gas lamps would kill that baby. They were a huge improvement over candles, but could be deadly without ventilation.

    Texas last week was a great example of why modern homes don’t work with burning heat sources. Too sealed off for their own good.

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