Polasek legacy: Sculptor's democracy statue returns to Prague
When about a dozen Central Floridians attend a Czech national celebration Wednesday in Prague, they will be watching a piece of history set right — and the conclusion of a saga that encompasses two world wars, communist occupation, defiant patriotism and a mystery.

The pomp and ceremony is for the unveiling of a statue depicting U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. Designed in 1928, the monument was one of the great works of Czech-American sculptor Albin Polasek, a Winter Park resident who died in 1965.

Representatives of the Polasek Foundation will join dignitaries in the Czech capital including President Vaclav Klaus; the first post-communist Czech president, Vaclav Havel; and former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who is of Czech descent.

"What an incredible tribute," said Debbie Komanski, executive director of the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens in Winter Park, run by the foundation. "This project is so meaningful to those of us entrusted with carrying Mr. Polasek's legacy forward."

The Wilson Monument, as the statue is known, is tied to the tumultuous history of Central Europe. After World War I, when Europe's map was redrawn, Czechoslovakia came into being. The new nation's first president, Tomáš Masaryk, had met Wilson and studied U.S.-style democracy, which he brought to Czechoslovakia's fledgling government.

"Czech Americans in this country were so proud of what had occurred," Komanski said. "They worked with President Masaryk to honor President Wilson. He was considered the godfather of Czech democracy."

Polasek, highly regarded worldwide, was chosen by the Czechoslovak National Council of America to sculpt a monument to Wilson. The large bronze statue was dedicated July 4, 1928, and prominently positioned in front of Prague's main train station.

Inscribed on its granite base was a quote from Wilson: "The world must be made safe for democracy."

That quote did not sit well with the Nazis who invaded the country in 1939. Within days of the U.S. declaring war on Germany in December 1941, the monument was pulled down.

After the war, a plaque engraved with the pro-democracy quote was placed where the statue had been. That didn't sit well with the Soviets.

During the Cold War, the communist overseers of Czechoslovakia had the plaque removed. In the 1970s, they ordered the destruction of the statue's molds and plaster test casts, used to make a final check for imperfections before the statue's parts were cast in expensive bronze and welded together.

But were they actually destroyed?

A legend?

Robert W. Doubek was skeptical of the rumors that the plaster casts still existed, hidden somewhere in Prague.

"I thought it was an urban legend," said Doubek, a U.S. State Department employee who founded the private organization American Friends of the Czech Republic in 1995.

Doubek often showed Czech visitors to Washington, D.C., a memorial to Masaryk — and one day in 2006 that sight stirred a vague idea.

"In the recesses of my memory, I sort of remembered hearing about a statue of Woodrow Wilson in Prague that had been pulled down," Doubek said. He did some research — "Thank God for Google" — and then started making calls to the Czech ambassador, the mayor of Prague and Komanski, who jumped on board.

"He said 'I think it can be re-created,'" Komanski recalled. "It never could have happened without his singular focus for the past five years."

Doubek had experience cutting through government red tape: A former Air Force intelligence officer who served in Vietnam, he had been the project director of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.