My friend Dan phoned the other day. "You have got to drive by this house in Paradise Valley!" he exclaimed. "It's got a plastic deer in the yard! It's so dumb! You could write about it for that thing you do in the paper!"
I called Dan back. "That thing I do in the paper is my career. And why would I drive all the way to P.V. for a plastic deer when I live up the street from Statue of Liberty House?"
It's true. Just about a block from where I live, there's a rather ordinary slump block house with a six-foot-tall, concrete Statue of Liberty in its front yard. If you've lived in Phoenix for longer than a week, chances are pretty good you've seen this zany monument, located right on Seventh Avenue just north of McDowell Road.
Statue of Liberty House has its own mythos. A realtor named Linda Morgan once told me that the ersatz Lady Liberty was erected by a former homeowner dragged here from Long Island by her husband, who mysteriously died in his sleep one night. "I don't know if she killed him," Linda told me, "but I know that she never went outside and she had the whole inside of the house painted with murals of Manhattan."
A local ceramicist I know who walks her dog past this house each morning confided in me once that, in the summertime, the man who lives in the house places a pair of sunglasses on Lady Liberty's stony snout each morning.
None of this proved to be true. I tracked down the owner of Statue of Liberty House, a woman named Diana Uwanawich who's never even been to Long Island. It was her mother, Rachel Guy, who erected the statue, in 1991. Rachel, who died last year, also installed the metal security door to the front of the house that has the word LIBERTY spelled out in big, wrought iron letters across its façade.
"My mom put the statue up during Desert Storm," Diana told me. "She did it to send a message that we should all be supporting our troops. It was a reminder that we live in America and we're free, and we should try to appreciate that."
Rachel had baseball caps and T-shirts printed with a likeness of the statue and slogans about freedom, and handed them out to friends and passersby. But some people still weren't getting her patriotic message. Some of the neighbors thought she was a witch.
"My mom was a psychic," Diana told me. "And some of the neighbors at the time were talking about how the monument she'd erected actually had a different meaning, some kind of psychic meaning. My mother kept saying, 'She's Lady Liberty. How can she have psychic meaning?'"
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"The neighbors in Palmcroft, where the house is located, didn't believe Rachel," according to Pat Owen, a local realtor who is selling Statue of Liberty House, which Rachel left to Diana. "They took her to court, and she won and got to keep the statue up." Rachel celebrated her victory by adding a gigantic American flag to the display, and reportedly told the nay-saying neighbors, "Why don't you go to New York and try to get them to take their Statue of Liberty down?"
Not long after that, Rachel visited New York and the real Lady Liberty for the first time. She liked it, according to Diana, but was surprised by how big it was.
Diana plans to keep the statue, which her mother bought right off the lot from a statuary dealer on North 44th Street, once the house is sold. "I don't know what I'll do with it," she admits. "I might put it in my backyard. The statue is something that's part of our family."
Owen says that no one who's looked at the house has expressed interest in keeping the statue. "But if it really meant a lot to the buyers," Diana says, "I could be convinced to leave Liberty behind. I would hate to hide her. She's supposed to be seen."