In 1966, the city’s Estonian community unveiled a symbolic flame to Estonia–then a state within the USSR. Designed by Oberlin graduate and prominent architect Herk Visnapuu, the Estonian Garden features an abstract sculpture, an inscribed flame, at its center. Sculptor Clarence E. VanDuzer designed the inscribe flame that represented freedom from bondage, and hope for a brighter future. This was an especially poignant message in 1966 when Estonia was still part of the Soviet Union.
The Inventory of American Sculpture describes the inscribed flame as being “a tapered cement shaft with curved tips. The top of the shaft is cut out in the shape of a petal or a leaf. The cutout area holds flame-shaped pieces made of wood. The sculpture rests on a raised mound surrounded by trees.” The inscription on the monument is from Kalevipoeg, an epic poem written by Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald, a writer and physician (1803-1882) in the 1850s but originally published in 1861. Part of the broader awakening of nationalist sentiment in Europe, Kalevipoeg became a lightning rod for the creation of Estonian national identity, of self-confidence and pride. It reads: But the time will come when all torches will burst into flame at both ends.
It is believed that the first Estonian settler, Geo. Tammik arrived in Cleveland in 1903. About 35 more people were recorded as Estonian immigrants by 1945 with about 200 more arriving following World War II. They are still one of the smallest ethnic groups in the Cleveland area.
September 2010 marked the completion of the remodeling of the Estonian Garden’s central area. A large, sandstone, boat-like planter surrounded by sandstone walks, has replaced the original walkway. The Baltic Sea is an important part of Estonian life and the boat suggests as much. Text incised in a paver at the boat’s stern is also from the Estonian epic poem, Kalevipoeg.