Letters to the lady with the torch

Dear Miss Liberty, edited by Lynn Bundesen. Layton, Utah: Peregrine Smith Books. 96 pp. $7.95 paper. In the middle of the lavishly commercialized celebration of the Statue of Liberty's 100th anniversary on July 4 comes a small, stirring, nonprofit observance of that anniversary.

It's ``Dear Miss Liberty'', a collection of 96 heartfelt letters to the Statue of Liberty written by people -- from grade school children to great-grandparents -- who love and cherish it. The letters were wrapped around contributions sent in during the national drive to restore the weather-beaten and structurally weakened symbol of freedom in New York harbor.

Many of the letters come from immigrants who remember vividly their first glimpse -- some by dawn's early light -- of this majestic statue. That was the case for English bride Ethel Mazynski, whose Polish husband, an air force officer, had been a Russian prisoner of war. She kept a diary, and this excerpt, from the Sept. 27, 1955 entry, describes their entrance into the harbor:

``By 6:30 a.m. the famous Statue of Liberty was visible. The sturdy looking female, made of copper and 151 feet tall, was about two or three miles away, far over towards the New Jersey shore, but the high pedestal on which she stood raised her well above the water level and her pale, green form -- looking slightly eerie in the grey light of early morning -- could be clearly seen. . . . It was a thrilling moment. . . .''

Until the book's editor, Lynn Bundesen, began culling the letters, many of them were languishing in brown cardboard boxes at the offices of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation on New York's Park Avenue, where the donations had already been sorted and counted. Ms. Bundesen heard about them from a friend who said it was ``a shame there [were] no human interest stories coming out of the letters written to the Statue of Liberty.''

So in April, Bundesen visited the foundation, asked to read a few letters and found them so moving that she went through nearly 6,000 before choosing the ones for ``Dear Miss Liberty.''

The final selection came not only from the foundation -- including messages on the backs of contribution cards -- but also from the Ellis Island Oral History Project, the curator of the statue, and James Hill, whose family has run the gift concession shop on Ellis Island for decades.

``I felt these letters really were The Beatitudes lived,'' Bundesen explains. ``They were from the poor in spirit, the meek, the humble, the widow giving her all. . . .

The writers include:

Helen Rice Nolden of Minot, N. D., who, at 60, had been out of work for three years. She sent $1 ``for the restoration of our great lady,'' because her Russian emigr'e parents first saw the statue in 1910 from the deck of the S. S. Mina.

The second graders of Mullen School in Michigan City, Ind., who raised $50 for the statue's restoration with a jellybean guessing contest. ``We heard that pieces of you fell into the water. Does it hurt?'' asked second grader Jacobi Spender.

Members of a Vietnamese refugee camp in Bangkok, Thailand, who sent 2,760 Thai bahts ($12 in US currency) ``in order to express our eager desire for freedom'' and to save the statue.

A necessarily anonymous Polish donor who sent $2 explaining ``I very like put money on this best, beautiful symbol of Freedom for all World and Poland. . . .''

Prisoner Eddie Howard, doing time in Parchman, Miss., who had no money but sent what he had: five US postage stamps to help the restoration.

The last letter, an anonymous one from a 98-year-old Miami Beach resident, says the statue ``represents freedom and a better life for everyone. That is what I believe in, and hope you can trim her in gold and silver so she can shine in the dark.''

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