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.

 

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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

March 11, 2014

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).

Good news at Liberty Island

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.

September 5, 2013

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.Statue of Liberty

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.

Liberty Island

December 24, 2012

Liberty Island following Hurricane Sandy

Brick pavers dislodged from Sandy’s storm surge.
From http://www.nps.gov/stli/after-hurricane-sandy.htm

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.

Statue of Liberty Reopens

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.