MOSCOW — Tony Aliengena of San Juan Capistrano upstaged Lenin's tomb on Wednesday, drawing hundreds of Soviets out of line as he and his family unfurled a 1,000-foot scroll in the middle of Red Square.
The event climaxed a day in which the 11-year-old aviator and his family met with top Soviet officials in the Kremlin. They presented the scroll and a sackful of 75,000 pen-pal letters as good-will gestures from children in the United States to children in the Soviet Union.
The show of support softened the disappointment the Aliengenas experienced in not being able to meet with Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who was reported to be presiding over the Supreme Soviet.
The scroll, signed by more than 250,000 U.S. school children, originally was to be unfurled today, but buoyed by the praise of Soviet officials in the Kremlin meeting, Tony's father, Gary Aliengena, decided that it should be unveiled Wednesday.
So the Aliengena delegation, flanked by a dozen others, marched into Red Square, set up the scroll on a stand and unfurled it slowly as bystanders--including hundreds in line to view Lenin's tomb--gazed in apparent puzzlement.
At one point, while struggling to hold the scroll against gusts of wind, Gary Aliengena frantically called out to bystanders to help. First a few people knelt to help hold the scroll, then more pitched in. Finally, hundreds had gathered to either help with the unfurling or to watch the event.
Gennady Alferenko, director of the Soviet Foundation for Social Inventions, the non-government agency sponsoring Tony's trip through the country, appeared moved by the event. "Unbelievable," he said.
The public display lasted 20 minutes. Alferenko explained that Red Square security officials had instructed that the scroll be rolled back up within that time.
The man in charge of Soviet youth affairs and three other officials formally received Tony, his family and selected members of his entourage in a lavishly appointed Kremlin reception room used by the Soviet president to meet foreign dignitaries.
The meeting with Valery Tsybukh, president of Gorbachev's Parliamentary Committee for Youth, lasted 40 minutes and included good will speeches and an exchange of gifts by both the Soviets and the Americans.
Tony is collecting the signatures of Soviet children on a second scroll, which he hopes to present to President Bush at the conclusion of his around-the-world flight. He and his entourage are expected to leave Moscow on Friday for the Soviet Far East.