New Peace Garden bridge to be built this summer

Marj Wunder was 14 when the U.S. bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and she said she will never forget the day it happened.

So when Wunder, an Edina resident, and her husband had a chance to visit Japan in 1983, she started thinking about a way to remember the bombings and warn people of the dangers of war.

“The nuclear threat and nuclear issues were very much in the foreground,” Wunder said. “We were in the middle of the Cold War and the images from Japan were still fresh in our minds.”

She received a gift of a stone from Ground Zero in Hiroshima, and when a rock garden in the East Harriet neighborhood was rediscovered after years of being hidden by the debris of a tornado, Wunder and Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board member Mary Lerman thought it would be the perfect place for it.

The stone, which was originally part of a bridge in Hiroshima, became part of a new bridge in the rock garden, later renamed the Lyndale Park Peace Garden after a citizens petition to change the name.

But the bridge, which was dedicated on August 5, 1985, exactly 40 years after the bombing, deteriorated over the years and was eventually removed in October 2007. Now, after years of fundraising and a little help from the Park Board, Wunder and a group of volunteers have enough money to rebuild the memorial, which should reopen this fall.

“We were kind of having to come to grips with the fact that the [old] bridge was deteriorating, that it was really becoming unsafe,” Wunder said. So she got permission from the Park Board to form a committee and started fundraising for the new bridge before the old one had even come down.

After about five years of fundraising for the bridge and a crane sculpture, the small and relatively informal Peace Garden Project Committee had managed to raise a total of $142,500 for the two projects. Of that, $76,300 was used for the crane sculpture, leaving $48,500 for the bridge, which was estimated to cost about $65,000.

“It got a little discouraging, because we kept seeing how much money we still had left to raise,” Wunder said.

But in October of 2008, the Park Board announced, somewhat unexpectedly to the committee, that they would “bridge the fundraising gap” and foot the bill for the remaining $16,500 to complete the bridge.

Now that the money has been raised, construction is expected to begin this summer, and the committee was told the bridge will be finished in time for a September 20 dedication this fall.

“It was a long process, but it was fun and great to tell the story of the garden,” said Emily Moore, a Lynnhurst resident and member of the committee.

The group, made up of mostly older women, sent letters to residents and applied for grants from government agencies, businesses and nonprofit organizations. They also put donation forms at the garden and sold origami products such as earrings, ornaments and stationary.

At fairs and neighborhood gatherings, the committee would teach people how to fold paper cranes and explain the story of the bridge to residents.

They brought along a model of the new bridge created by designer Kinji Akagawa, who was born in Japan and now teaches at the Minnesota College of Art and Design, and explained why the bridge was so important to them.

One story Wunder said especially touched her was the story behind the stone from Nagasaki.

While the Hiroshima stone came from a museum in Hiroshima, the Nagasaki donation came from a private citizen.

“He had collected seven stones, one for each family member he lost in the bombing,” Wunder explained. “And he gave one to us. That has just always stuck with me.”

Wunder and Moore also explained how the bridge and garden had become not only integral parts of the neighborhood as a place weddings, ceremonies and personal enjoyment, but also international attractions, especially after the garden’s designation as an International Peace Site in 1999.

Wunder said she had met many people from Japan at the garden who were touched by the memorials.

The dedication of the new bridge, which will take place on the eve of International Peace Day, will feature messages from Akagawa and bridge architect Jerry Allan, as well as visitors from Hiroshima.

The new bridge will be made of Brazilian mahogany, Minnesota granite and copper plating, as well as the stones from Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The wood is much more durable than the original cedar, Wunder and Moore said, and the granite walkway and hammered copper railings will add to the strength of the bridge.

It is designed in the Japanese Yatsu-Hashi style, which features a 90-degree turn in the middle of the bridge. Japanese legend says evil sprits can only move in a straight line, so they won’t be able to follow people across this bridge into the garden.

Wunder and Moore said they are looking forward to having the bridge back in the garden, as it is not only beautiful, but also a metaphor of sorts.

“The symbolism is the reconciliation, bridging the countries together and bringing peace,” Wunder said. “But also it is the warning that this sort of event can never happen again.”