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Stalin's Daughter Dies From Colon Cancer

Nov 29, 2011
Originally published on November 29, 2011 7:38 pm
Copyright 2017 Wisconsin Public Radio. To see more, visit Wisconsin Public Radio.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And finally this hour, she was born Svetlana Stalina in Moscow, 1926, the only daughter of Soviet premier Joseph Stalin. Stalina would change her name twice in an effort to escape her father's legacy. Last week, she died Lana Peters at the age of 85, in a small town in rural Wisconsin. It was there that she finally found a community that respected her privacy, as Gil Halsted of Wisconsin Public Radio reports.

GIL HALSTED, BYLINE: Lana Peters lived her last years in Richland Center, a small town of 5,000, 50 miles west of Madison. She arrived there in 1970, just three years after her tumultuous defection from the Soviet Union. In 1967, she had traveled to India to return her then-husband's ashes and gave her handlers the slip, turning up at the American Embassy. Once in the U.S., she denounced the Soviet regime, and called her father a moral and spiritual monster. She was invited to Wisconsin by Frank Lloyd Wright's Russian wife, Olgivanna, and soon met and married Wesley Peters, one of Wright's apprentices.

The marriage only lasted three years, and in 1984, she returned to Russia as Lana Peters and denounced the United States, claiming she had never felt free here. But then she redefected only two years later, and was soon back in Wisconsin. She made a few close friends in Richland Center, including bookstore owner Jodee Hosmanek. Peters didn't tell her friend she was Stalin's daughter until she gave her a book she'd written that was a collection of her letters.

JODEE HOSMANEK: And I called her. I said, Lana, you're Svetlana, and she started laughing. And I said, I had no idea. So it just kind of became a joke between us.

HALSTED: The two spent time sitting on the banks of the Wisconsin River, watching birds. Hosmanek says that love of birds was constant in Peters' waning years, and was one of the reasons she moved from a subsidized elderly housing unit into a nursing home.

HOSMANEK: She didn't last very long there because they wouldn't allow the residents to have bird feeders outside their window, and she just was not going to live with that.

HALSTED: Before finally settling in Richland Center, Peters also lived in England, but rural Wisconsin seems to be the only place she could really avoid being hounded by reporters asking her about her notorious father. Glenn Dunne, who works at a small sign-making factory in Richland Center, remembers meeting her by chance at the local library, when she was looking for someone to program her voice mail to discourage annoying calls from the press.

GLENN DUNNE: I recorded her answering machine message, but I did it in sort of a gruff voice. I said, yeah, this is 647-1234, leave your name and number, I'll get back to you. She really enjoyed, you know, hearing that. It would really throw off whoever was trying to call her.

HALSTED: She strenuously guarded her privacy. Two years ago, Peters told a reporter from the Wisconsin State Journal who did track her down that no matter where she lived, she would always be a political prisoner of the Stalin name. For NPR News, I'm Gil Halsted in Madison. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.