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.

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. Looking up at the porch at Mount Vernon

Key to the Bastille in ParisWashington’s home was already open to the public in 1871 and Auguste Bartholdi (the statue’s sculptor) came here Lafayette's Room at Mount Vernon

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).  Portrait of Lafayette by Ary Scheffer

On June 17, 1885, the French ship carrying the large wooden crates that contained the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York Harbor. The statue had been temporarily erected in Paris, then disassembled and packed into over 200 wooden crates for transport across the Atlantic. Erection of the statue began the following spring (due to construction delays, the pedestal at Bedloe’s Island was not quite ready in 1885) and was completed in October 1886.

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper showing the arrival of the Isère

American ships rushed out to greet the Isère as it approached the coast, and ceremonies accompanied the arrival of the ship at Bedloe’s Island.

It was a great day to be at Liberty Island. The weather was perfect and there were a lot of visitors, all happy to be part of the 125th anniversary celebration. I met members of the Statue of Liberty Club, a club I have joined (I was sorry to miss the group photo!), Park Ranger Bill Maurer, who has been a great support, and other rangers, members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Ladies Auxiliary, which has a tradition of honoring the Statue of Liberty every October 28, a NYC tour guide glad to learn more about the history behind the statue, and many other people. The concessionaire at Liberty Island and Ellis Island, Evelyn Hill, Inc., designed a beautiful poster for my “book signing” and set up a table for me near the entrance to the new gift pavilion. Because of my slow hand, I had actually signed the books in advance, but everyone was understanding and encouraging. It was a special day.Enlightening the World book signing for the Statue of Liberty's 125th anniversary

The National Park Service is planning a number of special events for this Friday, the 125th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty’s unveiling at Liberty Island. There will be music and speeches during the day, and fireworks around the island in the evening. I’ll be at the gift pavilion on Liberty Island Friday morning—with signed copies of my book!

I am delighted that my article “Creating Lady Liberty: Bartholdi’s Exploratory Visit to America” will be included in the next issue of the Early America Review.

The article is also here on my web site. “Creating Lady Liberty: Bartholdi’s Exploratory Visit to America”

July 4, 2011


Happy Independence Day!