The Two Sisters
October 28, 1886: President Grover Cleveland holds a dedication ceremony. In the struggle for autonomy, colonial America needed an ally. She found one in France who sent arms, ships, money, and men to support the revolutionaries. France was essential to the formation of the United States of America. In the 1860s the country was embroiled in a Civil War and barely able to preserve the union. In 1865 several French noblemen met for dinner. Disenchanted with Napoleon III and in frank admiration of the democratic and now all-free nation, the gentleman referred to the long-standing ties between the two countries and called them “the two sisters.”
The men at the dinner realized America’s centennial was approaching. They thought it would be fitting for France to bestow upon the US, a monument to independence and their lasting friendship. One of the guests was Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi. The idea stayed with the sculptor who was given his first commission at the age of 18. He was impressed with large creations, like many of his time. Grand times called for a grand scale.
Bartholdi was also a painter and a soldier. He created many great sculptures known not only for their size, but for their beauty. He was commissioned to create the gift from France to America – Liberty Enlightening the World. The joint effort called for the US to build the base and did not meet the centennial deadline. Bartholdi needed the assistance of an engineer to build his giant statue, and so he hired Gustave Eiffel. Funding as well as scope slowed the process. The work was finally completed and dedicated, as well as revealed, on this day.
We know the work as the Statue of Liberty. She resides on a 12-acre island in New York Harbor. She holds her lamp high, lighting the way to freedom. At one time, visitors could enter the torch. It has been closed since June 30, 1916 after an act of sabotage. Both the island and statue were off limits from September 11, 2001 until 2004 when the island once again opened. The Statue of Liberty was one again opened to the public on July 4, 2009.
Lady Liberty is made of 3/32-inch thick copper – about the thickness of two pennies. The green color or patina is the natural aging of the copper and in some places is nearly as thick as the copper itself. The statue stands 305 feet tall, or about the height of a 22-story building. She was the tallest structure in New York City when she was unveiled.
“It [the Eiffel Tower] looked very different from the Statue of Liberty, but what did that matter? What was the good of having the statue without the liberty?” – Josephine Baker
“The entire population of Liberty Island is small enough to fit into one copper-skinned palm of the colossal statue that serves as its only industry.” – Georgia Dullea
“The Statue of Liberty is no longer saying, ‘Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses.’ She’s got a baseball bat and yelling, ‘You want a piece of me?'” – Robin Williams
“The crime problem in New York is getting really serious. The other day the Statue of Liberty had both hands up.” – Jay Leno
This article first appeared at examiner.com in 2009. Editor’s update: There is a rich history of Liberty being represented as a woman. Early iconic representations of freedom included the personified Columbia as the US with Marianne representing France. Libertas, the goddess of freedom from ancient Rome also served as a model for Lady Liberty and some female form was on the face of many American coins of the time. Bartholdi could have depicted Liberty fighting for freedom but chose to portray her as peaceful. The crown on her head has seven rays depicting the sun and the seven seas or seven continents. The torch enlightens the world. Her dress changed style a few times before work began and her face was modeled after Charlotte Bartholdi, the sculptor’s mother. Unsure of what to place in Lady Liberty’s left hand, he eventually chose on a tabula ansata, or keystone-shaped tablet which would represent the concept of law. Inscribed on the tablet is JULY IV MDCCLXXVI.
Also on this day: Higher Education – In 1538, the first university in the New World was established.
Volstead Act – In 1919, Prohibition passed over President Wilson’s veto.
Gateway – In 1965, the Gateway Arch was completed.