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Is the Headquarters of the United Nations a Peaceful Place?

In the late 1940s, John D. Rockefeller Jr. donated an 18-acre site in New York City that would become the United Nations Headquarters. The complex is located between First Avenue and the East River, at the end of East 42nd Street. A small room for quiet, interdenominational prayer was part of the building's original design, but UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld insisted on something more. The result was the Meditation Room, where people of all faiths could retreat for silent reflection. Hammarskjöld was supported in the endeavor by a group of Christians, Jews, and Muslims, known as the "Friends of the UN Meditation Room." The group raised enough money to build a room that Hammarskjöld considered worthy of a world organization dedicated to peace. Hammarskjöld personally oversaw the room's construction himself.

Swedish influence at the UN:

  • A main feature of the room is a 9-foot (2.7 m) abstract mural that is intended to evoke a feeling of the essential oneness of God. The fresco was created by Swedish artist Bo Beskow.

  • In the center of the Meditation Room is a 6.5-ton rectangular block of polished iron ore, illuminated by a single spotlight. It was a gift from the King of Sweden and a Swedish mining company.

  • Hammarskjöld was the second person to serve as UN Secretary-General. The Swedish diplomat served from April 1953 until his death in a plane crash in September 1961. He died while traveling to negotiate a cease-fire in the Congolese conflict.

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