Fremont Troll

Seattle, Washington (WA)

The Fremont Troll, where a captivating folktale has been brought to life in a whimsical sculpture that lurks beneath Seattle's Aurora Bridge.

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Once Upon a Fremont Troll

October 31st’s Troll-o-Ween, might mean little to you or I, but to local Seattleites it is the birthday of the Fremont Troll. The hunched figure with stringy hair, long fingers, and a glint in his eye (probably from the steel hubcap) lurking under the city and crushing a Volkswagen Beetle with one hand, is Seattle’s most beloved figure. And no, this is not a fairy tale; this troll really does exist and can be found beneath the Aurora Bridge in the Fremont neighbourhood, 20 minutes from downtown.

Half submerged in the earth, the beloved sculpture still manages to tower over its visitors at 18-foot tall. Although, that does not prevent people from climbing onto it, scrambling into the VW Beetle or even sticking their heads into its nose – all in the name of the ‘perfect insta’. As one of Seattle’s most treasured public art installations, the Fremont Troll exudes an enigmatic charm that reinforces the city's quirkiness. Join us as we delve into the story and allure of the Fremont Troll, and see why it has served as a backdrop for everything from weddings and proms, to music videos and movies such as 10 Things I Hate About You.

A Creative Marvel: The Origin Story

Created over the course of three months, by architect students Steve Badanes, Will Martin, Donna Walter, and Ross Whitehead, the Fremont Troll was unveiled on Halloween in 1990 as part of an art competition. The concept behind the sculpture was to transform a vacant space under the Aurora Bridge, also known as the George Washington Memorial Bridge, into a work of art that would engage and intrigue passersby. The result? A mesmerising, towering troll, crafted from rebar, wire, and ferroconcrete (extra strong concrete).

The Art Competition

“The troll was constructed in 1990 after winning a Fremont Arts Council competition for designs to improve the freeway underpass, which then was a dumping ground.”

Atlas Obscura.

The Troll’s story began before it was even created, or envisioned. Out of sight out of mind; the land beneath Aurora Bridge had become a garbage site, place of homelessness, and drug den. It was filled with trash, disused furniture, and needles. But in 1989, with the intention of transforming the desolate enclave, the city of Seattle asked the Fremont Arts Council to arrange an art competition. This council was a community-run organisation with a very important responsibility; to discover what would fill the space beneath Aurora Bridge and ensure that whatever it was could positively reshape the community, invoke a sense of pride from the locals, and boost tourism.

Creating the Troll

After winning based on a public vote, the four University of Washington students received a $20,000 grant allowing them to breathe life into their creation. After working up to seven days a week on the project, with volunteers stopping by on weekends to help, the fairy tale design was brought into the real world. And so it remains, enthralling its visitors and becoming the recipient of much celebration each Troll-o-Ween.

Fremont Troll
- Carlos Castillo Casas

The ‘Mythtory’ Behind the Troll

Steve Badanes claims that the inspiration for the Fremont Troll came from the Norwegian fairy tale Three Billy Goats Gruff. In the tale, a trio of goats must cross a bridge guarded by a fearsome troll. According to folklore, trolls lurked in dark, isolated places – away from sunlight, which would turn them to stone – and were dangerous to humans. Therefore, the troll, dwelling in the shadows of Aurora Bridge, would act as the perfect deterrent to the junkies, litter bugs, and vandals.

But the artists claim that the colossal structure was also a protest against recent development in the area. The Beetle had a California licence plate and it is often speculated that the crushing of the car represents a protest to the influx of Californians to Seattle at that time.

“Fremont used to be kind of a funky town full of crafts people and artists. At the time, the whole waterfront was going to be razed and take out all these little boat building shops and art studios and put in Adobe… The troll was kind of a protest against that.”


Telling its Own Tale

Since its creation the Fremont Troll has sparked numerous myths and legends, adding to its allure and mystique. Some claim that the troll comes alive at night, protecting the neighbourhood and warding off evil spirits. Others share stories of its affinity for art and music, suggesting that it appreciates the creative endeavours of those who visit. It has also been connected to the appearance of many bloody animal skulls, suggesting an insatiable bloodlust. But each of these tales contributes to the enchantment surrounding the troll and fuels the imagination of those who stand before it.

Even Trolls Have Their Demons

After its construction, the Fremont Troll faced its own demons in the form of retaliation from homeless people, who formerly occupied the space. Over the years the sculpture has been vandalised, spray painted, and even stolen from. The original sculpture featured a plaster bust of Elvis Presley and a friend’s ashes, but these have since been taken, as has the Beetle’s license plate.

However, it has also brought people together in their defence of the troll. After the Beetle was broken into, locals filled it with concrete. When it is spray-painted with graffiti, it receives a fresh coat of cement. And when trash was dumped there and it was increasingly vandalised, neighbours funded powerful floodlights as a deterrent. So overall, it is clear that even though the troll has had to face its own demons, it has been a positive and unifying presence in the Fremont neighbourhood.

Discovering the Fremont Troll

To truly appreciate the Fremont Troll, one must venture beneath the Aurora Bridge. As you approach the troll's lair, you'll be greeted by the sight of its gigantic silhouette, peering out from below the bridge. Its imposing presence and expressive face are instantly captivating, inviting visitors to get lost in its whimsical world. Step closer, and you'll find intricate details, such as the mischievous twinkle in its eye and the moss-covered stones that surround it.

Due to its outside positioning, it is possible to access the troll at any time of day. However, according to legend troll’s do not take kindly to humans, so sticking to sunlit hours is probably most wise!

Exploring the Fremont Neighbourhood

Why not combine a visit to the Fremont Troll, with a wander around the surrounding neighbourhood? Fremont is known for its bohemian vibe, colourful street art, and bustling weekend market. Venture down streets adorned with quirky sculptures, visit local art galleries, and indulge in the diverse culinary offerings. It will become clear that the troll’s local dwelling is the true embodiment of Seattle's innovative, creative, and delightfully unconventional spirit. If Fremont doesn’t take your fancy, the troll also makes the perfect pit stop between other sculpture attractions and heading to Kerry Park to watch the sunset over the Seattle skyline.

Our Thoughts…

The Fremont Troll stands as an endearing symbol of Seattle's artistic soul and community spirit. Its larger-than-life presence beneath the Aurora Bridge captivates all who encounter it, inspiring wonder, laughter, and a sense of connection. Draping all over the structure for pictures has now become a rite of passage for anyone in Seattle, local or otherwise and the Fremont Troll has well and truly become an integral part of Seattle's identity.

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