For 143 years, the Statue of Liberty has shined as a beacon of hope and freedom in a world filled with too much despair and bondage. Édouard de Laboulaye was a French intellectual with an interest in President Lincoln, the U.S. Constitution, freedom and democracy — and didn’t like what was going on in France at that time.
France had been in turmoil since about 1793, with rising public displeasure toward the Louis XVI monarchy that led to the French Revolution in 1798 and the horrors of the guillotine.
Napoleon Bonaparte put an end to the violence, only to be followed by more social and political unrest.
By 1848, his nephew, Louis Napoleon, was elected as France’s first president. Ever eager to restore the days of Napoleonic glory, he staged two coups d’état — the first failing — and in 1852 became Emperor of France — like his uncle.
He helped France modernize, but was also responsible for a secret police force and repression of the populace.
Laboulaye opposed violent revolution, stating, “For these worshippers of the revolution … they understand one thing only: dictatorship exercised in the name of the people, that is, by them and for them.
“I love democracy, that is, government of the nation by the nation and for the nation; in no way do I worship revolution.”
But he did admire the way America conducted its revolution — successfully attaining liberty and freedom — the same elements for slaves during the Civil War.
With that mind-set, Laboulaye conceived the idea of France creating a giant statue of Libertas, the Roman goddess of liberty, as a gift to the United States as an expression of friendship between the two countries, with their mutual desire for liberty, freedom, justice, democracy — and to honor the late President Lincoln for abolishing slavery.
In 1871, an uprising by working and middle class Parisians against the French government was brutally crushed. Laboulaye wanted to change France’s government to a democratic one — but not through violence. He hoped that the statue would inspire the French to achieve the same lofty goals that the Americans did.
He spoke to his friend and sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi about it and they agreed it was a good idea. In 1865, Laboulaye and his supporters commissioned Bartholdi to work on the statue project. He was already working on such a statue intended for the entrance of the Suez Canal.
That plan was changed to making the statue for the United States instead, naming it “Liberty Enlightening the World.”
The creators of the Statue of Liberty were described as a “group of high-minded French intellectuals, neither red revolutionaries nor white-ribboned monarchists (who) saw an inspirational model for France in the free institutions of the United States … who planned and designed the statue … to convey a subtle but unmistakable signal of republicanism to their countrymen.”
It would be another 10 years however before the project became reality, starting with the formation of the Franco-American Union to raise the money.
The Statue of Liberty’s initial internal designer was Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, who unexpectedly died in 1879. Replacing him was prominent French architect and structural engineer, Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel — whose company designed and built the Eiffel Tower — his designs renowned for their lightness, grace and strength.
His job was to design the internal structure of the Statue of Liberty.
Eiffel’s design would not rely on weight to support the copper skin but on a flexible skeletal system to which the plates were attached.
While all this was going on, Laboulaye went to America and scouted out Bedloe’s Island in New York Harbor and recommended it as the best spot for the statue. Today, it’s called Liberty Island.
The French would make the statue at their expense and the Americans would acquire an appropriate site and raise $300,000 ($6.87 million in today’s money) to pay for and build the pedestal. Together, the statue and pedestal are 305 feet high — the statue alone 151 feet.
The Americans had a tough time raising the money, but succeeded when New York World publisher Joseph Pulitzer started a fund drive that attracted 120,000 doners — most contributing less than a dollar.
Meanwhile back in Paris, with funds donated across France by the rich, schoolchildren and ordinary citizens, construction work began at the Gaget, Gauthier & Co. workshop in 1876.
Despite its colossal size, the Statue of Liberty remarkably took only eight years to complete — from 1878 to 1884.
The statue remained in central Paris for a year, before being dismantled and crated for shipment to New York.
When the French frigate Isère arrived in New York on June 19, 1885, with 214 crates filled with the disassembled Statue of Liberty, hundreds of ships and 200,000 people were there to greet it.
It took just four months to reassemble the statue.
On Oct. 28, 1886, the structure was officially presented both to the nation and to all “who aspire to liberty, justice and democracy.” With bands and hoopla, a huge parade took place in Manhattan with up to a million participating. President Grover Cleveland watched from the reviewing stand.
Passing the New York Stock Exchange, the parade was the first to be showered with tickertape. Next, the president and American and French dignitaries went to Bedloe’s Island for another ceremony at the statue.
Only two women attended — Suez Canal builder Ferdinand de Lesseps’ granddaughter and Bartholdi’s wife.
For the next 32 years, more than 12 million immigrants were welcomed into New York harbor by the sight of “Lady Liberty.”
Everyone knows the Statue of Liberty as green, but when it was first put together the color was a dark orange-reddish bronze that began to oxidize when exposed to the elements and turned pitch black before developing today’s green patina.
There’s some controversy as to who the model was for the statue. Most sources say it was Bartholdi’s mistress (later his wife) for the body, and his mother for the face.
Reports say that Bartholdi’s mother was “a grim, overbearing woman who never overcame the outrage she felt when the family home in Colmar, Alsace, was occupied by the victorious Prussians in the war of 1870.”
The face was the last part of the statue to be installed and was hidden behind a veil until the statue was dedicated.
Written in Roman numerals on the tablet of law held in the statue’s left hand, is the date of American Independence July 4, 1776 — “July IV, MDCCLXXVI.”
On a plaque on the pedestal is inscribed the famous poem by Emma Lazarus:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
Inside the statue is a non-original copy of the Declaration of Independence.
The torch has posed problems over the years. It used to be open to the public, but has been closed since the “Black Tom” explosion on July 30, 1916.
At that time, World War I was underway, but the U.S. was still neutral. Tons of munitions and armaments were stored on Black Tom Island off the New Jersey shoreline, awaiting shipment to Russia.
German saboteurs blew it all up, with pieces causing structural damage to the Statue of Liberty nearby. The explosion was felt as far away as Philadelphia. Seven died and hundreds were injured.
Windows 25 miles away were broken; St. Patrick Cathedral’s stained glass windows were destroyed, Jersey City’s City Hall walls were cracked and the Brooklyn Bridge shaken.
The original torch on the Statue of Liberty was replaced in 1986, but public access stops at the crown. To maintain the floodlights that light the torch, National Park Service staff must climb a narrow 40-foot ladder.
The new torch is a copper flame covered in 24K gold — reflecting the sun’s rays in daytime and lighted by floodlights at night.
The seven spikes of the crown represent the seven seas and seven continents of the world.?She’s looking southeast — back toward France where the whole project was conceived, and toward ships arriving in America. At her feet are the broken chains and shackles — not visible from the ground level — symbolizing breaking free from tyranny and servitude.
What a thrilling sight the statue is for America’s new immigrants!
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Contact Syd Albright at email@example.com.
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One big lady…
Miss Liberty’s feet are 25 feet long, making her a U.S. women’s shoe size 879. She also has a 35-foot waist, and her face is more than 8 feet tall, with a 4-foot-6 nose. Her right arm holding the ever-lit torch, measures 42 feet. Inside the statue, 354 steps link the pedestal to the crown.
Calling Jenny Craig…
The Statue of Liberty tips the scales at 450,000 pounds (225 tons), with just the copper — slightly thinner than a penny — weighing about 100 tons. The copper plates were hammered by hand and attached to the inside iron frame.
Head of the show…
In 1878 before coming to America, the completed head and shoulders of the Statue of Liberty was exhibited at the Paris World’s Fair gateway. It was in good company. Also shown were Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, Thomas Edison’s megaphone and phonograph, and the politically incorrect (today) village showcasing 400 indigenous people.
Idahoan worked on Statue of Liberty…
Gutzon Borglum was born in 1867 in St. Charles in what was then Idaho Territory and became famous for sculpting Mount Rushmore. He also redesigned the Statue of Liberty torch, replacing much of the copper with stained glass.
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