Billed as a ribbon-cutting, The Girl Puzzle event was more about joining and sharing. An enthusiastic crowd heard speakers, all passionate, some funny, but the artwork’s message resounded throughout.
By David Stone
Cutting the Ribbon for The Girl Puzzle
Several years ago, then RIOC President/CEO Susan Rosenthal awakened with the idea of a tribute to Nellie Bly. Bly was a writer credited as the first investigative journalist for her reporting, at great personal sacrifice, on the treatment of women at a 19th Century lunatic asylum on Roosevelt Island.
Rosenthal launched the project, and after COVID-related delays, it opened with a ribbon-cutting on December 10th. Early and current supporters arrived for a ceremony blessed with fair weather.
Although the organizers kept to the background, the ceremony itself marked a smaller triumph for RIOC’s Communications and Community Relations Team. Headed by Erica Spencer-EL, including Jessica Cerone, Amy Smith and Juan Tejeda, the team arranged a smooth and engaging program. It was, in fact, a perfect setup for the ribbon-cutting.
“Roosevelt Island, we made history!” RIOC said, after the event.
“Thank you to all who attended the opening of The Girl Puzzle Monument Honoring Nellie Bly, today at Lighthouse Park.
“Strong women – past and present – were honored, celebrated, and cherished for their resilience and accomplishments…”
Speaker after speaker sounded those themes, but there was more, often personal, even humorous.
In a remarkable moment of comity, Rosenthal and Haynes greeted each other before the ceremony. Lawsuits, accusing RIOC and New York State of illegally dismissing her, are unresolved, but all that was set aside. After years of working closely, a common intimacy remained.
Speakers, throughout the ceremony, hailed Rosenthal for pioneering the art. But Haynes’s leadership in completing the project was also repeatedly noted.
“I was thrilled to see my dream of a Nelly Bly memorial become a reality. I knew Amanda Matthews’s vision would be extraordinary but never imagined it to be such a transformative work.”Susan Rosenthal
Keynote Speakers Came Prepared
Seawright, a speaker, arrived at the last minute and a little breathless. Known for her commitment to the community, she was delayed by visiting a mobile COVID-19 testing site on Main Street. Along with city council member-elect Julie Menin, she helped answer residents’ pleas for local testing.
A feminist sharing a landmark moment, Seawright emphasized that theme in her comments.
Widely admired historian Judith Berdy was a member of the panel selecting The Girl Puzzle, but she also worked as liaison with Matthews. During her talk, she recalled learning more about Kentucky than she ever expected. The full impact of that didn’t come across, though, until Matthews spoke.
Her slightly tilted, but unmistakable Southern accent struck a contrast with the other, fast paced speakers. Yet, there was no red or blue here. It was all about unity, encouraged by the bravery of Nellie Bly.
Chosen as Master of Ceremony’s, Jessi Smith, a reporter for CBS2, deftly managed the flow of speakers. But she came with a bonus because her station promised a report broadcast, this Sunday, on the morning news.
But the Girl Puzzle Really Was the Star of the Show
From the politicians to the hosts to admiring residents, visitors swarmed The Girl Puzzle’s monumental artwork. Sculpted faces, from now on, represent a broad range of women committed to equality and full expression.
Although accompanied by a large contingent of family and friends, plus admirers, Matthews managed a few minutes for taking a breath with her expertly realized artwork standing by. Later, given her chance at the podium, she stressed Nellie Bly’s personal courage. In unison with other speakers, she explained how Bly was a unifying force, stepping out for universal human rights.
Finally, it was time. Matthews playfully showed off the scissors she’ll use for cutting the ribbon. With her were two family members, Judith Berdy, Shelton J. Haynes, Ben Kallos, Lynne Strong-Shinozaki and Rebecca Seawright.
Thanks to Matthews’s art, Nellie Bly admirers and a well-crafted ceremony by RIOC, it was one for the records, an event Roosevelt Islanders will not soon forget.
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