MILFORD — Manny Strumpf is the man responsible for the first wedding and the first murder at the Statue of Liberty. But he is neither a rabbi nor a criminal.
Milford resident and long-time Jewish Ledger columnist, Strumpf knows a thing or two about Lady Liberty — he served for 22 years as the public affairs officer for the National Parks Service in New York City and had an office at the Statue of Liberty.
Strumpf once went to great lengths to help a Chicago couple plan a wedding at the Statue of Liberty-helping to arrange everything from the marriage license, to a minister, to media coverage. Now in his new book, “Murder at the Statue of Liberty” (2006, Publish America), Strumpf writes about a fictional murder at the national monument.
The idea for the book evolved from Strumpf’s real life work at the Statue. He recalls one incident when a man hid in the torch and tried to parachute from the Statue-but his parachute got stuck and he was left dangling.
“I thought, ‘What would have happened if this person hiding in the torch was a murderer?’ That afternoon on the train home from Grand Central Station, I jotted down some notes.”
Every afternoon from then on, he jotted down more notes for what would eventually become his book.
Besides his own experience at the Statue of Liberty, he received input for the book from the members of the United States Park Police New York Field Office.
“I developed a great respect and admiration during that time for the men and women who are devoting their careers to protecting and preserving our natural and historic resources, including the Statue of Liberty,” he said. “I’m proud to have worked closely with them during my career. Although I was an eyewitness to many activities on Liberty Island, fortunately, there never was a homicide.”
A six-year process
Strumpf, who was trained as a journalist at New York University, worked as a sports editor for a newspaper in Mount Vernon, N.Y., and served for 14 years as a reporter for the New Haven Register, before becoming PR officer for the National Parks Service.
Besides the Statue of Liberty, he also handled public relations for landmarks like Theodore Roosevelt’s birthplace, Grant’s Tomb, Federal Hall, Castle Clinton and Alexander Hamilton’s Home.
Over the years, Strumpf’s job at the Statue of Liberty has led him to meet many famous people, including President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca, and country singer Dolly Parton. He once gave a private tour to actress Mary Tyler Moore and her father.
Strumpf used much of his own knowledge about the famous New York City monument in writing his murder mystery.
In “Murder at the Statue of Liberty,” main characters William Johnson, deputy chief ranger at the Statue of Liberty, and ranger Jennifer Marcus find a dead body one morning inside the monument. They soon become prime suspects when U.S. Park Police Lt. Mike Finnegan and Vince Torre of the NYPD begin to investigate the shocking murder.
After completing one draft of the novel, Strumpf put it away for eight months. When he looked at it again, he felt it needed revision. He met book editor Stuart Meyer at a conference at Manhattan’s World Trade Center, who agreed to offer feedback. Strumpf ended up rewriting the book twice and changed the outcome several times. In all, it took him six years to finish the project.
Strumpf said that he has received many letters and emails of support for his book – and he has also received his first royalty check.
“I’ve received letters from London, Toronto, Los Angeles, North and South Carolina and I have been featured in the newsletter of the International Statue of Liberty Club,” reports Strumpf.
Strumpf, and his wife, Phyllis — the parents of two grown children and grandparents of three – are members of Congregation Or Shalom in Orange, where he is chairperson of the communications committee and was the recent recipient of the synagogue’s Shomerei Or Award.
Strumpf and his wife will soon head to their winter home in Florida where he will spend his time following sports, reading, golfing, and working on his next novel, which takes place at another interesting New York landmark — Theodore Roosevelt’s birthplace.