AUGUSTA — Samantha Smith, just 10 years old and a fifth-grader at Manchester Elementary School when she wrote a letter to Soviet leader Yuri Andropov expressing her worry about nuclear war, left behind a lasting message of peace and speaking the truth to people in power.

An exhibit opening Tuesday at the Maine State Museum seeks to pay tribute to Smith, whose letter prompted a reply and invitation from Andropov to visit the Soviet Union, which she did in a two-week mission of peace in 1983 that drew worldwide attention.

The exhibit opens on the 30th anniversary of the plane crash that killed her and her father, teacher Arthur Smith, when their Bar Harbor Airlines flight crashed and exploded near the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport. They were returning from London, where Smith, who was 13 at the time, filmed segments for an ABC television series, “Lime Street,” which featured actor Robert Wagner.

While the Soviet Union no longer exists, Smith’s story, which is still taught to many schoolchildren, remains powerful today.

“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.”

In her letter, Smith said she was worried about Russia and the United States getting into a nuclear war, and she asked Andropov what he was going to do to help prevent a war.


“God made the world for us to live together in peace and not to fight,” her one-page, handwritten letter, addressed to “Yuri Andropov, The Kremlin, Moscow,” concluded.

Parts of her letter were printed in the Communist Party newspaper Pravda. Andropov responded with a three-page letter saying that he and his people also wanted peace, and inviting her and her family to the Soviet Union.

The whirlwind two-week trip was covered nonstop by the news media, as she visited Moscow, Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) and Artek, a Soviet Young Pioneers camp for youths on the Black Sea.

Critics said the trip was largely intended by the Soviets to be a propaganda tool.

The sweet-faced, easygoing girl charmed her hosts and returned a celebrity.

The display planned at the museum will feature about a dozen photographs given to the museum by Soviet photographer Vladimir Mashatin, who was part of the media pool covering the trip from start to finish and who contacted the museum this spring and offered to provide digital copies of his photographs of the trip.


“He was part of the media crew that, everywhere she went, they went,” LaBar said. “Everywhere she went there was press, television, reporters, photographers. The U.S.S.R. had nonstop coverage. A huge circus went with her.”

LaBar said they selected photographs that primarily showed Smith during her time with other children at Artek camp, where there were some 4,000 youths.

Some of the photographs are of Smith spending time with Natalia “Natasha” Kashirina. The two became fast friends and in 1991 Kashirina came to Maine to serve as a camp counselor at the Samantha Smith World Peace Camp in Poland.

“We want to show her as a girl, a girl going to camp,” LaBar said. “Though it was very different than summer camp here.”

The exhibit also will feature a display case with a traditional Russian folk dress, a sarafan; and headdress, a kokoshnik; and a copy of Soviet Life, a magazine with a closeup of Smith on the cover.

The magazine cover also includes a quote from Smith: “Now I am certain the Russians, like the Americans, do not want war.”

The items are part of a collection of items donated by her mother, Jane Smith.

LaBar said the exhibit will be up until mid-October, other than being taken down for a couple of days starting Sept. 17 for an unrelated museumwide activity.


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