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.

Bartholdi had volunteered to design a liberty statue for America several years before his trip to the U.S. in 1871. The political situation in France and war in Europe had delayed the start of the project, and when he was finally ready to begin work on the design he realized that he must first get to know more about America – her people, her art, her natural landscape. It was important that this liberty statue, while having broad, universal meaning, celebrate the life and achievements of the United States.
As a statue representing a “grand idea” Bartholdi felt from the start that it should be large. What he experienced in the United States not only confirmed his inclination but also encouraged him to think in even grander terms. Shortly after he arrived, in June 1871, he wrote to his mother from a beach resort in New Jersey, “Everything is big in these hotels, even the petit pois.” And then he traveled west. Walking among redwood trees in California, he immediately referred to them as “colossal.” “These colossi are superb,” he wrote, “to say nothing of the magnificent trees around them.” Redwoods in California
It had become clear to Bartholdi, in a personal more than an abstract manner, that the scale of America is large – and the liberty statue could be, as well. Moved by the beauty and magnificence of the forest in California, he made a sketch of the redwoods to send to Édouard Laboulaye, the central sponsor of the statue. The natural grandeur of these colossi seems to have made a lasting impression. Announcing the fundraising campaign in France a few years later, Laboulaye and the Franco-American Union described the statue of Liberty Enlightening the World as a “colossal statue.”

Auguste Bartholdi, sculptor of the Statue of LibertyAs August draws to a close, I have been thinking of another summer, that of 1871, and Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s first visit to America. Bartholdi, the French sculptor who would design the Statue of Liberty, spent four months in the United States that year, meeting with people in cities along the East Coast to discuss the idea of a liberty statue and then traveling west across the country, to California. From the window of his train he looked out on the plains of the Midwest, on high plateaus, mountains and valleys, and an abundance of wildlife that is difficult to imagine today—one herd of buffalo, he estimated, numbered around one thousand. BisonHe spotted an Indian woman with a child on her back, he recorded in his journal shortly after leaving Omaha, and marveled at scenes that were like “something out of a fairy tale.” Bartholdi was mesmerized by the scale and beauty of the land he traveled through; it lifted his soul and colored his imagination. By the time he was heading back east his journal entries, previously brief, had become poetic. “For some time we passed through superb forests, to which the autumn has begun to give the most lovely tints. The bindweed and Virginia creeper, in autumnal colors, stretch from one tree to another as if to enclose the forest recesses, which are already being invaded by the woodman’s axe. These plants, like a band of voluptuaries, with their feet in the rich, swampy earth and their heads bathed in sunlight seem to indulge in gestures of the wildest extravagance.”
Bartholdi’s experience of America that summer convinced him to pursue the idea for a liberty statue, and established an enduring personal commitment to the project.

The Statue of Liberty reopened today after being closed to the public for nearly two years. Following the 125th anniversary celebration of the statue’s unveiling, on October 28, 2011, the statue was closed for a planned interior renovation project. The greatly anticipated reopening a year later included new public access to her crown—but lasted only one day! On October 29, 2012 Superstorm Sandy closed the island and left behind considerable damage. But today the island and the statue celebrate the Fourth of July by welcoming visitors once again.

CBS This Morning, “Statue of Liberty reopens eight months after Sandy”

Liberty Island

December 24, 2012

Liberty Island following Hurricane Sandy

Brick pavers dislodged from Sandy’s storm surge.

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.

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