A dying Japanese child's mission in 1955 to create 1,000 paper cranes as symbols of hope has taken flight around the globe, coming to rest in Lehighton.
Sadako Sasaki was 2 years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on her home city of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. Eleven years later, she developed leukemia, believed to have been caused by the radiation.
As she lay in her hospital bed, Sadako decided to fold 1,000 paper cranes; Japanese legend held that a wish would be granted to the person who accomplished that task. The little girl wished for health, and for peace and healing for those who suffer.
Although Sadako's wish to get well was not granted she died on Oct. 25, 1955, after 14 months in the hospital her 1,000 cranes project took on a life of its own. Since then, school children and groups devoted to peace worldwide have taken up Sadako's mission and folded thousands of paper cranes as expressions of healing and hope.
Among them are recent Lehighton Area High School graduates Peter Petrack, Evy Heckman and Laura Cressley, who, with the help of friends and fellow church members, folded and strung 1,000 paper cranes for patients at Blue Mountain Health System's Gnaden Huetten campus. The students were all members of the National Honor Society and the Red Cross Club.
The cranes, made of whatever paper they could get their hands on, including church bulletins, now hang in garlands from the front window of the hospital.
Peter, who will be a music composition major at Moravian College, Bethlehem, in the fall, initiated the project.
"Last year, the National Honor Society was looking for a new project. I read about the 1,000 Cranes Project. I did a little research, and found there was a legend in Japan that cranes live 1,000 years, and if you make one origami crane for each of the 1,000 years of the crane's life, you are granted a wish," he said.
Peter learned about Sadako Sasaki through a play written about her life. The theater department at Lafayette College, Easton, performed the play in 2010, presenting the 1,000 cranes that had been folded for the production to David Heard, then 10, who was battling cancer.
David in turn donated the cranes to Lehigh Valley Hospital, Muhlenberg, and set a goal to have cranes donated to every pediatric hospital in the country. The movement grew to send 1,000-crane garlands to hospitals worldwide as a symbol of healing.
David died on Feb. 10, 2011.
Peter wanted Lehighton's National Honor Society to be a part of David's mission.
"At first, everyone thought it was kind of crazy, they didn't think it would work. They didn't think we'd be able to figure it out, they didn't think we'd have the time or the patience to make 1,000 cranes. But, we did," he said.
It took half of their senior year to fold the cranes, even with help.
"When we finished, it was the logical choice to send them to our own hospital," Peter said.
Hospital spokeswoman Lisa Johnson and Director of Fund Development Joe Guardiani strung the garland in the front lobby.
"This is a great project because it helps to connect the students and the school with the hospital. It helps to expose the students to the myriad of careers that are available to them right here in their own backyard as well as importance of giving back to their community. Plus, it sends a great message about having compassion and caring for others, which is what our health system is all about," said Andrew E. Harris, president and CEO of the Blue Mountain Health System.
Evy Heckman, who will attend Bloomsburg University, Columbia County, to study American Sign Language interpreting, recounts the experience of making the cranes.
"Peter came to me with this idea about the cranes, and I was previously interested in origami, so when he came to me with the crane idea, I was really eager to jump in and help him with it," she said. "According to the Japanese legend, if a person makes 1,000 origami cranes, then that person will get a wish. So we kind of donated our wish to the hospital."
Evy said the congregation of Zion United Church of Christ, Lehighton, pitched in.
"For the sermon one day, Peter and Laura and I kind of stood up and handed out papers to the congregation and tried to teach them how to make cranes. We got about 60 from the congregation," she said.
As a result, some of the cranes on the hospital garland are fashioned out of church bulletins.
What did she learn from the 1,000 Cranes Project?
"Well, obviously, I learned how to make an origami crane. That's one thing I'll never forget, since I've done it so many times. I learned about the history of origami, and how long it takes to make 1,000 cranes," she said.
National Honor Society adviser Matt Fisher supported the project.
"I did a little research on it, and I thought it was an incredible amount of work to do, and a huge task, but I thought it was definitely worthwhile," he said. "Through Peter's diligence, and Evy and Laura and some others, they got some students at the school to start making these, and some people in the community. Over the past year, it just exploded to the point where they kept bringing more into my classroom, and we now have over a thousand that we are giving to the hospital."
The gift of 1,000 cranes "is a legacy not only for Lehighton, but for the students who did this," Fisher said. "I'm sure they will always remember it."