As a born and bred New Yorker it seems strange, but I’ve never been to the Statue of Liberty. I may have seen it way off in the distance, if you can see it from the Brooklyn to Staten Island ferry, that is. Even then, I was on the ferry only several times when I was about twelve years old, in the pre-Verrazano Bridge days. I probably wasn’t aware that the statue was there: the ferry trip was much more exciting. Typical New Yorker, I lived there but missed a lot. But then I remember that I wasn’t just sitting around twiddling my thumbs – I had a lot going on. I did once get up to the top of the Empire State Building, but that’s another story. On with the essay.
The eighteenth of this month marks the 125th anniversary of the dedication of the Statue of Liberty. First conceived in 1865, 145 years ago, it had a hard time aborning. Frederic Bartholdi first got the notion from a law professor who thought it would be a great idea for the French and Americans to get together to raise a monument to American Independence. Yes it was a great idea, but what with one thing and another, a war, design problems, and financial setbacks, the work on the statue didn’t begin until the 1870’s.
By the first Centennial of American Independence, Lady Liberty’s forearm and the torch were on display in New York City’s Madison Square Park. Two years later, in 1878, the head was on display in Paris. After a bit of fuss gathering the funds in America for the base, the body and its parts were finally united and raised and dedicated.
We all know about the French connection, but here are some facts, some arguable, surrounding the statue that may interest many of you, especially if your origins are in:
Egypt - the body of the statue was originally conceived by Bartholdi for a lighthouse to be at the entrance to the Suez Canal. Obviously, it was never built, but it was to be in the form of a robed Egyptian woman, holding a torch aloft.
Italy and Germany - Liberty’s 151 ft. construction, copper sheets hung as a curtain wall on an armature, is in the same method as the Colosso de San Carlo Borromeo, a 77 ft. statue of St. Charles Borromeo in Arona, Italy on the shores of Lago Maggiore (I've been to this one, and it is quite imposing.); and of the 87 ft. Hermannsdenkmal memorial to the ancient Germanic hero Hermann, in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.
Norway - The copper for the cladding was mined in Visnes, Norway. For a while this fact was in dispute because no records of the purchase could be found, but spectrographic analysis performed in 1985 confirmed it. Strangely enough, in 2007, a bike was commissioned from Orange County Choppers (O.C.C.) by the company licensed by the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation to handle commemorative items made from materials salvaged from the 1986 restoration of the statue. Among other salvaged pieces they used, O.C.C. had most of the bike plated in copper from some of the original copper saddles that held the cladding sheets to the armature. I think this bike, after touring around the country, finally would up on display on Liberty Island. Nevertheless, I still file this one under "why wouldja?"
New York and New Jersey - though the island where the statue stands is federal property, it is actually in New Jersey. Sorry, New Yorkers! Just the docks are in New York (close, but no cigar!), so transport to and from Liberty Island, formerly Bedloe’s Island, is handled by the City of New York. Starting in 1986, the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the statue, New York began using the icon of the statue on its license plates. Though it was a minor faux pas, nobody minded much. They changed the design in 2001.
Way back in history when few people could read, symbols, like pictures, were worth those thousand words. In these days of big corporate logos and emoticons we regularly use only a few national symbols: the flag, and the bald eagle, and Lady Liberty herself, but nowhere near the symbols that are there to be deciphered on the statue and base. From the thirteen original colonies represented by the thirteen layers of granite for the base, to the seven seas and seven continents represented by the seven points on her crown, they packed in a whole lot of symbols. Today these may strike some as being a bit hokey and contrived, but the meanings are still strongly representative of us and our history.
The full name of the statue is “Liberty Enlightening the World”. The torch and arm was the first part Bartholdi built. Were it the only part built it would still be as strong a symbol for America as the entire statue is today. Lady Liberty strides forth, her torch held high, to light the way for the world.