From the Statue of Liberty to Rockefeller Center’s Statue of Atlas, New York City is filled with sculptures to honor significant people, ideas and moments in history, some in surprising places. While these statues have fixed, often iconic locations, there is one lesser-known statue that moves once a year: a life-sized bronze figure of Fred Lebow, who founded the New York City Marathon in 1970. This year, it will make its annual “pilgrimage” on November 4th.
The statue, named Forever at the Finish Line, currently stands at 90th street and the East Drive at Central Park. On the first Sunday of November, however, park workers lift the 600-pound sculpture from its sturdy base into a truck, carefully driving it to a location near the Marathon’s finish line.
Fred Lebow’s statue normally stands quietly in Central Park’s East Drive, but is moved to greet New York City marathon participants as they cross the finish line every year. Image via Flickr user Wally Gobetz.
Thus, as exhausted runners pass the 26.2-mile mark, the figure of Fred Lebow in his legendary running suit and hat, glancing at his watch, greets them. Even before the Marathon’s start, some runners rub the statue for good luck or leave flowers around it.
Fred Lebow’s statue is honored by New York City Marathon runners. Image via Wikipedia Commons user Seidenstud.
The statue’s story started in 1990, when a Californian named Daniel Mitrovich ran (and fell in love with) the New York City Marathon. He then established a committee dedicated to creating a statue of Lebow, whom he felt was deserving of that honor. This was an uphill battle, as Mitrovich needed to raise the money required, convince government officials, including the mayor and governor, and deal with people who opposed commissioning the statue.
San Diego artist Jesus Ygnacio Dominguez created the statue and it was ceremoniously presented on the day of the 1994 New York City Marathon in Central Park. During that time, however, Central Park had a moratorium on the placing of new statues. Thus, it wasn’t until 2001 that Lebow’s sculpture received a set home (well, sort of) at its current location.
Lebow, who was born in Romania in 1932, had to escape from Nazis and later the Communists by migrating throughout Europe. He later started a career in the textile business in New York City. Though he initially started running to improve his fitness for tennis, he began to adore running itself soon enough. In fact, he would end up running 69 marathons in 30 countries during his life.
A video of Fred Lebow finishing his final marathon.
Lebow proceeded to establish the first New York City Marathon, which only had 127 participants at the time and took place in Central Park (today there are over 30,000 participants and the race spans all five boroughs). Lebow wanted the race to be for people of all speeds, races and genders. The official New York City Marathon route has changed over the years, and there were other marathons within the city that took place years before its establishment.
Through the efforts of many current runners and related organizations, Fred Lebow’s presence continues to live on. You can find his statue sitting quietly on a granite pedestal at its semi-fixed location in Central Park’s East Drive (where runners frequently gather to exercise)-until the first Sunday of November, that is.
Next, Find out how the NYC Marathon route is determined and see the 10 Previous Incarnations of the NYC Marathon. For more unique statues in New York City, check out 10 Statues You Wouldn’t Expect to See in Manhattan’s Public Spaces.