Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The New Colossus

Magnet # 270: Beth, New York

Material: Rubber

Purchased By: Mom & Dad

After nearly a decade of hard work by a dedicated team of talented workers, the Statue of Liberty finally arrived in New York Harbor tomorrow, June 17th, in 1885. It originated as a gift from the French to commemorate the Centennial of the Declaration of Independence, but it grew into so much more than anyone could have anticipated.

It was French politician and historian Edouard-Rene Lefebvre de Laboulaye who first conceived the idea of joining with the United States to create a monument celebrating republican virtues. He was an admirer of the United States and shared his thoughts with others at a dinner party. At that time, France was experiencing political unrest. The French Third Republic was controlling the nation, but many thought it would not last and wanted either a return to the monarchy or a return to a constitutional authoritarianism. By promoting this cause, Laboulaye and his followers hoped to further their cause of a more liberated France. Laboulaye's friend and noted French sculptor, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, was chosen to design the sculpture. Bartholdi soon decided that he wanted his work to be as grand as those of ancient times, such as the Colossus of Rhodes, that had not been created since. He saw his creation as being a sort of lighthouse, a variation of the Roman goddess Libertas in a loose gown like those of Egyptian peasants holding a torch in a hand held to the sky and wearing a crown of seven spikes, representing the seven seas and seven continents on which her liberty would shine. And the face of his creation would be modeled after his own mother. Interestingly enough, Bartholdi first presented the idea to the creators of the Suez Canal, but they lacked the funds for its creation. Thus, it went on to be used by the French and Americans. It was agreed that the French would create the statue and assemble it in the United States and the Americans would provide its base. For this project, the noted architect Richard Morris Hunt was brought on and he created a striking pedestal that was the world's largest concrete structure upon its completion. It has since become home to the American Museum of Immigration. As for the statue, it was decided that an inner framework would be necessary to support the gigantic structure and Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, would would go onto create the Eiffel Tower, was brought in to design it. The iron support system he created would be strong yet flexible and allow the statue to shift with the winds and alterations in the weather without damaging it. This framework was soon covered with copper sheets that would give the statue its green color. Although the statue was not ready by its original due date, July 4, 1876, the right hand and torch were and they were sent over the United States and displayed at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and visitors there paid 50 cents to climb up to its balcony, money that went toward funding the pedestal. When that proved not to be enough, Joseph Pulitzer began calling for funds on the front page of his newspaper, The World. Finally, the statue was completed in France in 1884 and it was broken down into 350 pieces and packed into 214 crates for its voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. Later that year, construction began on the pedestal and on October 28, 1886, President Grover Cleveland unveiled the completed statue to a crowd of thousands. Ironically, when he served as Governor of New York, Cleveland had vetoed a bill providing funds for the creation of the pedestal. At last, Liberty Enlightening the World was at home and she wasn't going anywhere.

For years, immigrants coming to the United States were welcomed by the statue and it became a symbol of liberty for them and the rest of the world. It was used as a lighthouse until 1902, but it confused many birds, causing many of their deaths. Mount Rushmore's sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, altered the torch in 1916, and this led to rain and melted snow leaking into the statue, corroding it. By 1984, Lady Liberty was in dire need of repair and was closed to public. Scaffolding was erected from the base to the top and for two years, the statue was cleaned and renovated so it might last for many years to come. And even though it was closed for a brief time after the September 11 attacks, the Statue of Liberty welcomes massive crowds every year. I've seen it on a trip to New York City, but haven't toured it myself - perhaps one day. With all of the work of such noteworthy figures that went into the creation of this statue, it's nice to see how important it has become to our nation and the rest of the world and I'm pleased that it should be with us for many years to come.

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