A Conversation for The Statue of Liberty


Post 1

Bels - an incurable optimist. A1050986

I think this entry may need a little further clarification in the interests of accuracy and comprehensiveness. The Statue of Liberty is of course a hugely popular attraction, with ferryloads of tourists visiting every day, even in winter, and even those who have never visited it may possibly regard it as in some sense iconic; so it would be good to add some further information with a view to updating this entry.

I think it is necessary to delve a little deeper into the genesis of the whole project and to give due credit to the man whose original idea it was. The original conception was nothing to do with America but was an expression of purely French ideals of the Republic. It came from Edouard Rene Lefebvre de Laboulaye, a French legal scholar and staunch Republican. He found the regime of Napoleon III oppressive and greatly admired the post-Civil War American Republic. What he really wanted was a monument that would revivify and sustain the Republican ideal in France, and it was Laboulaye who first discussed the idea with Bartholdi.

Although such a monument was genuinely meant to be a gift to America, Laboulaye also knew that such a strong assertion of the French Republican ideals of Liberty would not be at all welcome in Imperial Napoleonic France. While Bartholdi was away, looking at various possible sites in America, back in France Napoleon was ousted after France was defeated by Prussia in 1871, and the resulting vacuum was characterised by a struggle between monarchists and republicans for the hearts and minds of the French populace. Laboulaye and his fellow republicans saw such a monument as a way to establish Republican ideals on a firmer footing in France. The plan to build it was announced in 1874 before France herself had become republican once more. Then in the early days of the new French republic the ideals of liberty and freedom were still fragile, and a powerful symbol would be needed to help foster them.

Bartholdi was a committed libertarian and was also inspired by the immensity of the ancient colossi, particularly the Colossus of Rhodes (a huge statue of the sun god Helios) spanning as it did the entrance to a harbour, and as soon as he saw Bedloe's Island in New York Harbour he knew that he had found the perfect site for this new Colossus. This is alluded to in Emma Lazarus' Sonnet 'The New Colossus', mentioning as it does the 'air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame' - the 'twin cities' being New York City, New York and Jersey City, New Jersey.

It is worth mentioning that the statue was formed in plaster, firstly as a scale model then gradually increased to full size. Wooden patterns were made, conforming to the plaster sections, then sheets of copper 2.5mm thick were hammered into shape against the wooden patterns.

The framework designed by Eiffel was ingeniously constructed using flexible iron bars to allow the statue to sway in high winds yet also to expand and contract, as copper does, with variations in temperature, since in New York winters can be very cold and summers very hot.

The statue was completed in 1884 and stood in Paris for about a year before being dismantled and shipped over to America. When it arrived, however, America was not ready for it.

The French were to provide the statue, the Americans the pedestal. But the pedestal was not ready for the statue, owing to lack of funding. It is not accurate to state that the American government raised the funds for the pedestal. Funds were solicited from private donors, but they were not sufficiently forthcoming. Pulitzer's achievement was, through his publications, to get large numbers of ordinary people to send in mostly small donations and buld up the funds in that way, rather as enormous sums of money can be raised for charity from small donations from ordinary folk.

For the statue's centenary celebrations in 1986 a complete refurbishment was needed, which included replacing Eiffel's ironwork, now of course badly corroded, with stainless steel. The arm had originally been incorrectly installed, and this needed to be corrected and strengthened. French metalworkers replaced the old flame that had been lit from inside with a gold-plated copper flame lit by reflection, as Bartholdi had originally intended. In any case the original torch was badly corroded as its windows could not be sealed properly.

Where the entry states that the seven spikes in her crown represent the seven seas of the world, it would be worth adding that they also represent the seven continents (North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and Antarctica).

It could be mentioned that the Statue of Liberty was from 1886 until 1902 listed as an official navigational aid for ships entering the busy port of New York City. Most mariners still consider her a lighthouse.

"The chains below her feet symbolise the broken shackles of slavery." There's something very interesting about these chains or shackles - they cannot be seen. At least, not from the ground. If a visitor wishes to see them, they would have to take a helicopter ride to get a bird's eye view. I believe this is deliberate. Even by the time the statue was erected the question of slavery was still a contentious issue in the USA, and it could have been too contentious to display the broken shackles openly. So they are there, but not visible to the casual visitor.

Now to the poem, The New Colossus. The poem played no part in the inauguration of the statue. The statue was never intended to represent the Mother of Exiles gathering the huddled masses. This was purely Emma Lazarus' notion. She was not herself one of the recent immigrants, but came from a prosperous Manhattan Jewish family who had been established in America for quite some time. She was of course aware of the waves of immigration in the 1880s, and of how many of the immigrants settled initially in Manhattan's Lower East Side in conditions of poverty and overcrowding scarcely much better than those from which they had fled - except that they were no longer persecuted.

Emma 'adopted' these people. Although she was Jewish her family were Sephardi (basically Jews of Spanish/Portuguese origin) and most of the immigrants were not from that culture. She studied their Yiddish and tried to learn their culture and she helped them to learn English. She was a highly intelligent woman, and published articles in the leading journals and newspapers. When she was asked to write a sonnet to the statue, to help raise funds, she initially refused. But when it was suggested that she write about the statue in the context of the immigrants, she agreed to try.

The sonnet was written in 1883, but lay neglected. Evidently Emma didn't think much of it. At the same time many other artists, including including Mark Twain and Walt Whitman, created works to be auctioned off to raise money to build the pedestal for the statue. It was only after Emma Lazarus had died that some of her friends, spurred on perhaps by the opening of the immigration centre at nearby Ellis Island in 1892, arranged to have a small plaque engraved with the sonnet placed inside the statue's pedestal in 1903.

It is because of that, and no doubt because of the magic of the moment when all those millions of immigrants caught their first sight of the statue, that the original meaning and purpose of the statue has been superseded. It was never intended as a lighthouse welcoming immigrants to America. It was meant as a symbol to the world and particularly to Europe (it points towards Europe not America) of the Republican ideals that America embraced.

The poem contains its own tensions. It refers to 'the wretched refuse', perhaps as an allusion to the misery and, yes, discrimination that those immigrants suffered when they first made landfall. For many of them the streets were certainly not paved with gold, and for many of the native population the shackles of slavery had not been broken. Walt Whitman himself lost his prestigious position as Editor of the Brooklyn 'Eagle' because he dared to speak out against slavery, and he went off to write 'Leaves of Grass'. In the years following the waves of immigration there was an inevitable backlash and laws were passed severely restricting further immigration. Emma's Mother of Exiles could cry out her message only 'with silent lips' - was she, even then, being gagged?

Perhaps it should be said that the symbolic value of the Statue of Liberty lies not in inspiring immigrants to leave their homelands to come to the United States, but in inspiring the other peoples of the world to embrace the ideals and freedoms that the United States holds dear.


Post 2


You obviously are a bit late for me to make a difference. I'd tell you to take it up with Update HQ, but they are quite slow lately

Where were you in PR? I felt this was too short, but it got picked.

smiley - blacksheep


Post 3

Sea Change

I don't know how to 'Peer Review' updates, so I will comment here.

It's unlikely given construction materials available to the ancients that the Colossus of Rhodes could have spanned that particular Cypriot harbor. Since the actuall Colossus was sold for scrap by muslim conquerors, there isn't any record of where specifically it was, though. A small wording change, or addition of 'reputedly' or 'the myths that grew around the C of R' would be more accurate.

Most of this stuff is good information, but could be easily part of an entry about the history of the Statue's conception and linked, rather than updated. The main thing that would need to be changed about the main entry is that about the funding of the pedestal. The refurbishment of the S of L has some stories behind it, and could also be another entry, because I remember it, too, was funded by the american people and I remember much private fundraising at the time.


Post 4

Bels - an incurable optimist. A1050986

Hi Jodan - I was there in PR, gave you the text of the sonnet - remember? But for personal reasons I haven't been able to get back to this till now. Meanwhile your entry was fast-tracked right through to the front page. (My last effort took 5 months - five months! - to get to the front page. But am I bitter? Of course not!)

Sea Change, I think it's pretty fundamental to a proper understanding of the statue to appreciate the true motivation that lay behind it.

One thing I forgot to mention - there's a painting in the Louvre, Paris, by Eugene Delacroix, entitled 'Liberty leading the people'. It was done in 1830 and would have been well known to both Laboulaye and Bartholdi and must have influenced the design of the statue (the raised right arm, the flowing skirts, the naked breasts - well perhaps not the naked breasts, not for NYCsmiley - winkeye). Worth a link to http://history.hanover.edu/courses/art/delalib.html (The bloke in the top hat to the left of Liberty is Delacroix himself.)


Post 5

Smij - Formerly Jimster

In memory of Bels, Jodan has written a full update of this entry, which replaced the old one this morning. Bless you Bels, and thanks Jodan.


Post 6


Bels should get a credit of course. Almost all of the last section was his, some of the introduction and a good portion of the history. smiley - smiley

smiley - blacksheep


Post 7

Smij - Formerly Jimster

Sorry, only just realised I'd ported across the text but not the Reseacher list. smiley - doh

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