In 1876 the USA celebrated 100 years’ independence. In honor of this occasion, the French nation dedicated to the American nation a monumental statue, which was soon given the name “Miss Liberty”. The figure was created by the sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, who made use of the ancient world with his idea of using a gigantic statue as a lighthouse at the entrance to the harbor. The Colossus of Rhodes most certainly inspired him. It is said that for the statue, Bartholdi modeled the facial features after his mother and the figure after his wife. In the interior, the statue is supported by an iron framework, which was constructed by the firm of Gustave Eiffel, the builder of the Eiffel Tower. The casing of the statue consists of 350 thin copper plates. The statue itself is 46.5 meters high and weighs 225 tons. In its right hand the statue holds a torch whose flame is covered with gold. In its left hand it holds a tablet with the inscription “July IV MDCCLXXVI” (“July 4, 1776”), the date of the American Declaration of Independence. On its head it wears a seven-pointed crown in which there are 25 windows. This symbolism also originates from the antique world: the rays represent the continents and the windows the gemstones.
Originally “Miss Liberty” was supposed to commemorate the liberation of the slaves, ten years after the end of the American Civil War. But already at its dedication it was known more as a symbol for French-American friendship. Both states also worked together constructing the statue. The Americans built the pedestal, the French built the statue. The statue was financed solely by donations. However, it was not always easy to raise the necessary money. For that reason, the completion of the monument was delayed by ten years. Until everything was ready, the French put the statue up in Paris on a trial basis. Even today a smaller copy of the statue can be seen there. Another copy stands in Colmar, Bartholdi’s place of birth.
The gigantic hand with the torch was already shown in 1876 for the 100th anniversary celebration, first in Philadelphia and then in Madison Square Park in New York. After that it was returned to France. In 1878 the head of the statue could be admired in Paris.
In 1884 the statue was put together completely in Paris. And in 1885 the pedestal was at a stage where the statue could be dismantled in 350 pieces, packed in 214 crates and shipped to New York. However, the crates had to be stored for a further year because the pedestal, which was financed by donations, was still not completely ready. As the Americans showed little interest, the New York newspaper publisher Pulitzer started a fundraising campaign to support the financing. The pedestal – up to then the largest concrete construction – was faced with granite and completed in 1886. Eiffel’s iron construction was placed on top of it. In order to prevent tension and possible cracks, the parts of the outer skin of the statue were connected by iron strips so that they could move independently, in order to balance wind pressure and differences in temperature.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the Statue of Liberty was the first thing that many millions of immigrants saw as they approached the “New World” America on their ships. For this reason, the statue is connected with the topic of immigration even today. A poem which is inscribed on the pedestal also points that out. However, the reception of the immigrants took place under unworthy circumstances. The Irish author George Bernhard Shaw commented on the entry requirements with the words: “I’m known for my irony, but even I would not have come upon the idea of erecting a statue of liberty in the harbour of New York.”
However, the Statue of Liberty was never used as a lighthouse, as Bartholdi had intended. The torch was illuminated, but the reflected light was too weak. Only in 1916 was a light actually installed inside the torch.
Those who are willing to take the trouble and wait in line can climb up inside “Miss Liberty” right up to the seven-pointed crown and enjoy the magnificent view from the windows. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the crown was inaccessible for eight years. On August 5, 2009, in time for the 125th anniversary of laying the foundation stone, the crown was re-opened for visitors. When it is dark, the torch in the right hand of the statue shines far across the water from a height of 93 meters.
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