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.
I could not help feeling a tinge of disappointment on hearing that the Sears (now Willis) Tower has lost its title as tallest building in North America to One World Trade Center in New York. But I was pleased that the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat executive director, in announcing the height of One World Trade Center, recalled the building designers’ early vision of a spire and beacon honoring the Statue of Liberty. The spire of One World Trade Center “which holds the beacon light,” he said, “shining out at the symbolic height of 1,776 feet, is especially poignant – echoing the similarly symbolic beacon atop the Statue of Liberty across the water.” In fact, in early drawings of 1WTC the designers showed the spire rising at one side of the tower (rather than centered on the roof).
October 14, 2013
The Statue of Liberty reopened yesterday, despite the continuing US government shutdown.
All parks run by the National Park Service closed as a result of the shutdown but the State of New York offered to fund the operations at Liberty Island so that it could reopen—for six days, initially. The state and the National Park Service plan to renegotiate every few days to continue this arrangement, until the shutdown has ended.
It was also during Bartholdi’s 1871 visit that he discovered Bedloe’s Island. Although he was still forming the liberty statue in his mind when he arrived in New York, as soon as he saw the island he knew that it might just be the right site for the statue. Ten days later he took a closer look and became enthusiastic, now convinced that this was “the best site.” Symbolically, the island was also perfect for a statue intended for the nation, in that it belonged, not to a single state, but to the federal government.
Bartholdi hoped to pursue this idea and, thanks to Édouard Laboulaye’s connections in the U.S., had the opportunity to present it directly to Ulysses S. Grant, president of the United States. Édouard Laboulaye was known in the U.S. as a friend of America: he admired the American legal and political institutions and lectured about them at the Collège de France in Paris, and he assisted American campaigns by writing articles for U.S. publication, supporting Abraham Lincoln in the early 1860s and Grant in 1868. In the summer of 1871 Bartholdi paid a short visit to President Grant, who was staying at his summer cottage with his family. “I spent an interesting half hour with the Grants,” Bartholdi wrote his mother. “There is no formality.” Bartholdi asked about the possibility of obtaining Bedloe’s Island for the proposed statue. The idea apparently appealed to the president and he assured Bartholdi that, if the project moved ahead, he would do what he could to designate Bedloe’s Island for the purpose. He kept his word, and in 1877 Grant signed a resolution designating an island site for the anticipated gift from the people of France. The statue was completed in 1886 but it was not until 1956 that the island was renamed Liberty Island.
December 24, 2012
The day after the crown’s reopening on October 28, 2012, Liberty Island was closed to visitors because of Hurricane Sandy. Considerable damage occurred at the island and a date for reopening has not been set. Yet, based on an initial assessment, the National Park Service reported that the statue appears to have withstood the storm without damage. This is especially remarkable considering that the engineers in 1880 had relatively little information about the wind forces in New York Harbor.
October 27, 2012
This Sunday, October 28, visitors will once again be able to climb the steps inside the Statue of Liberty (now 393 steps) to reach her crown. The statue has been closed for interior renovation since the 125th anniversary ceremonies last October. Scheduled for this Sunday, the statue’s reopening will commemorate her unveiling in New York Harbor 126 years ago.
On the morning of October 28, 1886, people filled New York City sidewalks, crowded around windows and onto balconies, gathered on rooftops, and even perched themselves on lampposts and telegraph poles. A spectacular event was planned for the day to celebrate the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, beginning with a parade down Fifth Avenue, leading to lower Manhattan and Battery Park. The several-mile-long procession moved past Madison Square and the reviewing stand erected for U.S. President Stephen Grover Cleveland, who presided over the day’s ceremonies, then past Wall Street, where young men at the Stock Exchange leaned out the windows and inaugurated what has since become a tradition of the “ticker tape parade.”
Following the parade in Manhattan, attention shifted to the grand statue in the harbor as spectators prepared for speeches at Bedloe’s Island and the unveiling of the statue’s face. As the light raised by this magnificent statue shines on these shores, President Cleveland proclaimed, it will reflect on the shores of our sister Republic across the Atlantic and “pierce the darkness of ignorance and man’s oppression until Liberty Enlightens the World.”
This Sunday the 126th anniversary of the statue’s unveiling will be marked by the reopening of her crown to visitors. Unfortunately I cannot make the climb myself, due to my health. But I encourage anyone who is able to do so. The exhilarating view is unmatched. And, as you look out over the water, you may even sense the expansive vision of enlightenment that shaped this unique national monument, the Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World.
June 19, 2012
I just returned from the annual meeting of the American Friends of Lafayette, which took me to Washington, D.C. This year’s program was especially exciting for me because we visited a couple of places that I mention in Enlightening the World: The Creation of the Statue of Liberty. We started our tour with a visit to Mount Vernon, where Washington displayed the key to the Bastille that Lafayette sent him after the fall of the Bastille on July 14, 1789.
Washington’s home was already open to the public in 1871 and Auguste Bartholdi (the statue’s sculptor) came here
during his exploratory visit to the U.S. and saw both the key and “Lafayette’s Room.”
In the afternoon we were treated to a special visit to the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives to see the portrait of Lafayette by Ary Scheffer. Scheffer gave the portrait to Congress in 1824-25 during Lafayette’s spectacular 13-month-long “guest of the nation” tour of the United States. The House of Representatives commissioned a portrait of George Washington for the other side of the speaker’s rostrum—and the portraits of these two Revolutionary War heroes have hung together in the House Chamber since the 1830s (they were moved into the new Chamber when the House moved in 1858).