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Eleanor Roosevelt statue unveiled in New York

monument October 6, 1996
Web posted at: 3:10 p.m. EDT

From Correspondent Michael Okwu

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Before a throng of adoring, wide-eyed fans in the city she called home, Eleanor Roosevelt was honored with music, tribute and an 8-foot monument in her image.

Serene, contemplative and -- like the woman it immortalizes -- larger than life, the bronze statue is the first public statue of a first lady, according to organizers.

It was enough inspiration to prompt first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton to joke about her famous imaginary conversations with her predecessor.

"When I last spoke with Mrs. Roosevelt, she wanted me to tell all of you how pleased she is at the dedication of this great, great statue," she said.

Thirty-four years after her death, the United States' longest-serving first lady seems to have a special grip on nearly everyone.


"I think as the century closes draws to a close and we look back on public figures," said Herb Zohn of the Eleanor Roosevelt Monument Fund, "we realize what a giant Eleanor Roosevelt was."

Zohn, together with members of Roosevelt's family, formed the Fund, which raised $1.4 million to commission the statue and to maintain and improve Riverside Park, where it now stands.

"There was tremendous enthusiasm and it was like a magic carpet," Zohn said.

It is the public Eleanor that history remembers and the public reveres -- her tireless work to secure the U.N.'s Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and her lobbying for civil rights, the poor, and children.

But those who knew her say it is the private Eleanor that inspired love as well as admiration.


"She was just wonderful," said grandson Franklin Delano Roosevelt III. "She was even better as a private person."

Still it was her public influence, what historians would describe as her unparalleled influence in the Oval Office that has shaped her undying legacy.

"It's a legacy that says we have to peace," said biographer Blanche Cook. "We have to have dignity and decency for all people. We have to have jobs and work and education for all people. That's her legacy and it stands tall as tall as she did."

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