The Statue of Liberty is an exceptional work of art, in scale, setting, and design. Her symbols of liberty celebrate our nation’s past achievements, yet this is not a monument to the past. Instead, the statue focuses our sights on the present and on the future. Toward progress.

The people of France who supported the idea of a statue as a gift to the people of the United States were proud of their close association with our country. They admired the integrity and statesmanlike character of the founding fathers as well as the selfless determination of Abraham Lincoln. They were relieved by the conclusion of the American Civil War and the end of slavery. They shared our ideals and aspirations, and they were glad to honor the United States.

The Statue of Liberty came to embody the moral authority that the United States acquired over the course of its first two hundred years. Indeed, the statue’s symbols of liberty and her depiction of forward movement are meaningful precisely because the United States proved itself a principled leader, leading by example, not merely words. This understanding gives the statue a radiance that transcends her physical design.

There have been threats to America’s world standing throughout her history. But when I wrote my book about the statue, Enlightening the World: The Creation of the Statue of Liberty, I believed that, for the most part, people around the world respected the United States. I did not imagine that our political system might be incapacitated in partisan quagmire or that the divisions in our country would flare up into violent confrontations and give rise to expressions of hatred.

And yet the statue, I believe, continues to point forward. She shoulders the burden of our grievances by reminding us of the principles that guided our nation’s growth and enlightenment for over two centuries. Whether we will be re-inspired by them is up to us.

 

The presentation of the Statue of Liberty as a gift to the United States was celebrated in Paris on July 4, 1884. People filled the streets around the copper foundry’s workshop and yard, as well as climbing onto neighboring rooftops for a good view of the ceremony.  July1884 2

The statue had been fabricated and erected in Paris to ensure that every part was considered and the statue was complete before being shipped to the United States. The U.S. Minister to France accepted the statue on behalf of the President of the United States, Chester A. Arthur. The physical transfer of the statue, however, would not take place until the following June, when 214 crates containing the disassembled statue arrived in New York Harbor aboard a French naval transport, the Isère.

The Isère arrived in the Lower Bay of New York, off Sandy Hook, on June 17, 1885. Two days later she headed up the bay on the last leg of her journey. A formidable entourage, ranging from U.S. and French war ships to small leisure watercraft, prepared to escort the Isère. “The scene,” newspapers from Philadelphia to St. Louis to Los Angeles reported, “was one of the liveliest description. . . . as far as the eye could reach there were vessels without number. . . . The music of a dozen bands flowed out over the water, while the war ships thundered and the forts re-echoed with booming guns.”

iserearrival

Upon reaching Bedloe’s Island, “when the anchor of the Isère was lowered and had obtained a firm grip, there was more firing of cannon, blowing of whistles and shouting of people.” Bedloe’s “island was so full of people,” the New York Sun exclaimed, “that it seemed as if some of them must fall off.” Many more people waited in Lower Manhattan for the start of a land parade. “The city was in holiday attire” to celebrate the arrival of the Isère and the gift she carried, wrote the Boston Daily Advertiser. “Flags were flying from all public buildings and nearly every big store on Broadway was profusely decorated.”

The scene on June 19, 1885, was especially impressive considering that the statue remained below deck, hidden from view, disassembled and packed in 214 huge wooden crates (the crate containing the face alone measured 20 feet long by 12 feet wide). It was another year before construction on Bedloe’s Island was complete and the Statue of Liberty was ready for inauguration – the occasion for another grand celebration – on October 28, 1886.

 

 

 

Turkey eagle

June 24, 2016

During a recent tour of the Massachusetts State House (part of the American Friends of Lafayette annual meeting) I was intrigued by a relief on one of the walls in the old Senate Chamber. It is a “Teagle,” a bird with an eagle’s body and feet but a turkey’s neck and head. According to our guide, it was still uncertain which bird would be selected for the national symbol when the State House was built so a design combining the two was made. This story reminded me of how easy it is to take for granted the many little (and not so little) decisions that have been made over the years, decisions that shape our world.

Teagle at the Massachusetts State House

Yorktown Day

October 19, 2015

Today is the 234th anniversary of the victory at Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781, which effectively concluded the American War for Independence.

Monument to the Alliance and Victory, Yorktown

Victory Monument at Yorktown

During the summer of 1781 General Lafayette and a relatively small force in Virginia skirmished with the British troops in the south under the command of General Cornwallis. Toward the end of summer the British decided on a different strategy and Cornwallis pulled his forces back to the coast near Yorktown, unaware that a formidable fleet of French war ships, sent by Louis XVI, was on its way to Chesapeake Bay. Recognizing the opportunity to overwhelm the British in the south, General George Washington and the Comte de Rochambeau hurried to Virginia, bringing American and French troops from the north. The combined land forces, together with the French fleet, encircled the British in a siege at Yorktown. Cornwallis soon realized he had no choice but to surrender his forces.

Monument to the Alliance and Victory, Yorktown

“Erected in pursuance of a resolution of Congress adopted October 29 1781 and an act of Congress approved June 7 1880 to commemorate the victory by which the independence of the United States of America was achieved”

The Continental Congress acknowledged the significance of this victory and immediately in October 1781 authorized the construction of a commemorative monument, which it described as a “marble column, adorned with emblems of the alliance.”

Victory Monument at Yorktown

Monument to the Alliance and Victory
Yorktown Monument Commissioners, 1881
R.M. Hunt, Architect Chairman
Henry Van Brunt, Architect
J.Q.A. Ward, Sculptor
Oskar J.W. Hansen, Sculptor of Liberty, 1957

Work on the monument, however, did not begin until nearly a century later.

The cornerstone was laid as part of the centennial Yorktown Day celebration in 1881.

While the Monument to the Alliance and Victory was still under construction, the architect responsible for the design, Richard Morris Hunt, was selected to design the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.

Pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, designed by Richard Morris Hunt

Pedestal of the Statue of Liberty

Richard Morris Hunt

Richard Morris Hunt

Hermione-Lafayette 2015

June 15, 2015

After a 31-day crossing of the Atlantic, the Hermione arrived in Yorktown, Virginia, on Friday, June 5. There were many festivities in Yorktown, reminiscent of the joyous greeting the original Hermione received in 1780. The Hermione will make 12 stops before returning to France: Yorktown, Mount Vernon, Alexandria, Annapolis, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Greenport, Newport, Boston, Castine, and Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

Hermione-Lafayette tour ticket

Hermione-Lafayette

The Hermione in Yorktown

This beautifully hand-crafted ship was built in France as a replica of the 18th century ship that brought the Marquis de Lafayette back to America in 1780, during the American War for Independence. Lafayette had returned home to France to convince Louis XVI to send more aid, soldiers, and war ships to assist the Americans.

Hermione-Lafayette 2015

L’Hermione 2015

The crew, which includes many volunteers, trained for months in preparation for sailing across the Atlantic.

In October 1886 the Statue of Liberty was unveiled in New York Harbor, bringing to completion a 21-year journey from conception of the idea to inauguration of the monument. The idea for an American liberty statue, to be collaboratively built by the French and the American people, was first suggested in France in 1865, at the end of the American Civil War. The French sponsors waited several years for the right moment to announce their idea for this ambitious project and to commence fundraising in France. In the years that followed, the design was finished; funds were raised, first in France and then in the US; the statue was constructed in Paris, then disassembled (with each piece labeled so the structure could be easily re-constructed in the US) and packed into crates; the 210 crates were shipped from France to New York Harbor, where a pedestal had been prepared on Bedloe’s Island (now Liberty Island); and the 151’-1” tall statue was erected. On October 28, 1886, after long anticipation, the Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World was joyfully unveiled on Bedloe’s Island. Near the end of a day filled with ceremony and festivity, President Stephen Grover Cleveland accepted and inaugurated the statue on behalf of the people of the United States. A deity “greater than all that have been celebrated in ancient song,” he remarked of this unprecedented symbol of a vision of life founded on liberty, opportunity, and justice, “she holds aloft the light which illumines the way to man’s enfranchisement.”

Happy anniversary Lady Liberty!

 

Carol Harrison’s piece in the NY TImes features Édouard Laboulaye, the primary sponsor of the Statue of Liberty (he shepherded the statue from idea to construction). I appreciate her citing Enlightening the World as a source for her article.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/04/01/dr-lefebvres-american-dream/?ref=opinion

From Harrison’s article:

“The survival of the Union at a great cost, including especially the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, spurred Laboulaye to imagine a monument commemorating French and American commitment to freedom. Famously, the Statue of Liberty was born at Laboulaye’s dining room table in an 1865 gathering. Among the guests was Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, a sculptor whose ambition to build a modern colossus became part of Laboulaye’s project to erect a monument to liberty. A monument built by French and American efforts would act as a reminder of the “sympathy” between the nations; it would celebrate the survival of American liberty and perhaps remind French subjects of the Emperor Napoleon III of the peril to their own.”

Statue of Liberty, designed by Auguste Bartholdi, in Carol Harrison's Opinion piece Dr. Lefebvre's American Dream about Edouard Laboulaye