“If a monument should rise in the United States, as a memorial to their independence, I should think it only natural if it were built by united effort—a common work of both our nations.”
French President Edouard de Laboulaye
These were the words of the French President on thee idea of a monument to American Liberty in 1865 while the American Civil War was still going on. But the inspiration lasted and eventually came to life in that very symbol of American freedom, the Statue of Liberty which arrived in her eventual home in New York harbor in some 350 individual pieces packed in 200 cases on today’s date in 1885.
A Celebration of Franco-American Friendship
Lady Liberty was designed by the French sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi. In fact Bartholdi used his own mother as a model for his design (the Patent is pictured below) With help from Gustave Eiffel (who would later achieve fame with his Eiffel Tower), the great statue was originally intended to be completed in time for America’s
Centennial in 1876. But the raising of funds to pay for the project got to be a difficult matter on both sides of the Atlantic. In France there were Lotteries and various entertainment events held. In the U.S. wherein the pedestal on which the Statue would stand was being designed, there were boxing matches, as well as theatrical events and art exhibitions. Also, a drive was announced by the newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer to raise $100,000 (2.3 million in today’s dollars) for the statue. Pulitzer pledged that he was going to print the name of every single contributor, no matter how small their contribution. This really caught on in our country. At one point point Pulitzer started publishing little notes that came with the donations, including one from “A young girl alone in the world” donating “60 cents, the result of self denial.” The Statue wound up costing France $250,000 (5.5 million in today’s dollars).
Lady Liberty Arrives
On this date – June 17, 1885 – the French steamer Isère, docked in New Harbor to an enthusiastic welcome from the residents of NYC, some 200,000 of whom lined the docks in welcome along with hundreds of small boats who formed a very public welcoming committee. As said above Lady Liberty arrived here in some 200 crates (pictured below is the face). The pedestal on Bedloe’s Island was not completed until
April of 1886. The construction, or the re-assembly of the 350 pieces took until October. Gustave Eiffel’s iron frame was anchored to steel I-beams which were set in the concrete pedestal, and the statue was assembled. The sections of skin were attached by workers dangling from ropes, but in spite of this danger nobody was killed during the construction phase. Lady Liberty stands 151 feet tall from her base to her out-stretched torch. From the ground, she stands 350 feet. At that point in time, she was the tallest structure ever constructed in New York City.
Lady Liberty is Dedicated
The 450,000-pound statue was officially dedicated in a ceremony before thousands of spectators on October 28, 1886. President of the United States, Grover Cleveland, said on that day: “We will not forget that Liberty has here made her home; nor shall her chosen altar be neglected.” Perhaps the most famous words associated with the Statue of Liberty are the stirring words of a sonnet written by the American poet, Emma Lazarus for the fund drive in 1883. Entitled “The Colossus of Liberty” the sonnet was inscribed on a plaque which was mounted on an interior wall of the Statue’s base in 1903. The full sonnet rings with a welcome to immigrants (such as my grandfather) which is still inspiring today, no matter what controversies may rage today over immigration policies:
“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
‘Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!’ cries she
With silent lips. ‘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-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!'”