In the summer of 1983 the most famous child in the world was Samantha Smith, the 10-year-old girl from Maine who sent a letter to Soviet leader Yuri Andropov: “My name is Samantha Smith … I have been worrying about Russia and the United States getting into a nuclear war …” Her subsequent journey to […]
By Mel Allen
Oct 30 2015
In the summer of 1983 the most famous child in the world was Samantha Smith, the 10-year-old girl from Maine who sent a letter to Soviet leader Yuri Andropov: “My name is Samantha Smith … I have been worrying about Russia and the United States getting into a nuclear war …” Her subsequent journey to the Soviet Union became a media sensation. In the months that followed, Samantha grew from a celebrity into a worldwide symbol of peace.
On a rainy August night in 1985, Bar Harbor Airlines Flight 1808, flying from Boston to Lewiston–Auburn, crashed 4,000 feet short of the runway. Samantha, her father, and six others died. Her mother, Jane, found a way through her grief by establishing the Samantha Smith Foundation, with the message that “one ordinary person can make a difference.” The summer after Samantha died, Jane Smith returned to the Soviet Union. With her were 20 of Samantha’s classmates from Maine. Where Samantha had gone, they went. By then an asteroid, a flower, a mountain, and a cruise ship bore Samantha’s name in the Soviet Union. In Maine, the first Monday in June is officially Samantha Smith Day, when schools plan activities to help children understand other cultures.
“She surprised all of us,” Jane Smith said, “how she suddenly became articulate in front of the camera. To us she was a 10-year-old who seemed to do nothing but giggle and act like a complete idiot with her friends. Then all of a sudden the camera was turned on, and she could make sense. The first time I saw her on television I had to go to my neighbor’s to watch; we didn’t have an antenna. She came on, and tears filled my eyes. I couldn’t believe this was my kid … She was the perfect age for all this. She had no idea of the impact of the trip. It was like she was taking an exciting field trip …” —“Life After Samantha,” by Mel Allen, May 1988