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Samantha Smith Exhibit

Samantha Smith, of Manchester, Maine, holds letter she received from Soviet leader Yuri Andropov on April 26, 1983 in Manchester, Maine. (AP Photo/Patricia Wellenbach)

Yesterday, was the 30th anniversary of the death of Samantha Smith. In 1983, Smith, an American schoolgirl, wrote a letter to Yuri Andropov, the Soviet Prime Minister.

Dear Mr. Andropov,
My name is Samantha Smith. I am ten years old. Congratulations on your new job. I have been worrying about Russia and the United States getting into a nuclear war. Are you going to vote to have a war or not? If you aren’t please tell me how you are going to help to not have a war. This question you do not have to answer, but I would like to know why you want to conquer the world or at least our country. God made the world for us to live together in peace and not to fight.
Samantha Smith

Andropov wrote her back and invited Smith to visit Russia. The trip received widespread news coverage and made Smith a Generation X icon. Sadly, she and her father were killed in a plane crash on August 25, 1985.

Sometimes, when I write about Generation X, I feel like I’m writing in the shadows of Smith. I wonder what she might have become — what she might say about 9/11 and ISIS and so many other things. She possibly wanted to become a freelance photographer or an actress. She was so beautiful with so much potential. And, I can’t believe she’s been gone 30 years.

Yesterday, the Maine State Museum in Augusta, Maine, opened an exhibit to pay tribute to Smith. “I think her story is as relevant as ever,” Laurie LaBar, chief curator of history and decorative arts for the Maine State Museum, said. “Particularly for people who may feel they don’t have any influence, a story like this is refreshing because it shows you can make a difference, if you speak the truth.”

Here are some wonderful photos of Samantha featured in the exhibit.

Maine schoolgirl Samantha Smith, who has been visiting the Soviet Union at the invitation Soviet leader Yuri Andropov, displays a Russian folk costume given her by schoolchildren, on July 20, 1983 in Moscow. (AP Photo/Boris Yurchencko)

Samantha Smith Russian Beach

Maine schoolgirl Samantha Smith at a press conference in her luxury Moscow hotel before returning home July 21,1983 to America. (AP Photo)

Samantha Smith, of Maine visiting the Soviet Union at the invitation of Yuri Andropov, visited Petrodvorets near Leningrad Saturday, July 17, 1983 with her friend Natasha Kasharina. (AP Photo).

RIP Samantha. Young and sweet and forever 13.



Gen X Blog Jennifer Chronicles

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  1. Brett

    About Samantha Smith, I remember thinking she was a very nice little girl who handed the Soviet PR machine a gold mine it used to its fullest (including accusations that her death was not an accident). I also remember wondering how likely it would be that a 10-year-old from the USSR would be able to mail a letter in her own words to a US leader.

    I can understand why many millennials are ambivalent about religious institutions and organized religion; they are full of imperfect and often disillusioning people. On the other hand, one thing that can be guaranteed about a private non-communal faith is that it will rarely stretch you beyond where you are right now.

    • Brett

      If nothing else, putting up with the other people in the pews. That stretches me like nuttin’ else 😉

      But a me-only faith never asks me to do anything I don’t already do. It’s a very rare individual who could be turned loose for seven hours a day, starting when they’re 5, and master the skills needed to receive a diploma at 18. A community of faith asks me to learn how to put up with people of different understandings, to listen to other voices that may hold some wisdom I don’t and to allow me to offer wisdom some others may not have. I can have an impact far beyond just my own abilities through service and mission teams or volunteering in a church helping ministry. If just being spiritual or even prayerful on my own was enough, Jesus probably would not have said, “Wherever two or three of you are gathered…”

      And yes, the low priority placed on church attendance has a *big* role. I’d have to hunt for the reference, but I’ve read of more than one survey that said people who consider themselves active members of their church average 1.25 to 1.5 Sundays a month at worship. Dance competitions, soccer tournaments, softball, baseball, or the regular old, “But this is our only day of the week we get to sleep in” entries all place higher than, “Gather with the body of Christ to praise his name” for my people under 50.

      On my mean days, I want to tell them, “Keep this up and this church will be here long enough for your parents’ funerals. But your kids are going to have to find somewhere else for yours, because someone else is going to own this block by then.”


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