Friday, July 3, 2009

The 4th July and the Statue of Liberty

In 1865 Edouard de Laboulaye, a French politician of liberal leanings, gave a dinner party at his home near Versailles. De Laboulaye had read de Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill and was an admirer of the US governmental system. He had supported the Union during the Civil War. At this dinner party there were a few guests, including a sculptor from Alsace (where my grandfather was born, see my post of May 12, 09 “Mother’s Birthday”). Edouard thought that for the forthcoming centennial anniversary of American Independence on the 4th of July 1876, France should give a gift to America. It would be given in friendship and in honor of the Franco-American alliance as well as for the friendship built during and since the war of Independence. It was decided that this gift should be representative of “liberté” the French word for “freedom."

Picture of Auguste Bartholdi (photo courtesy of National Park Service)

Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi was the young sculptor attending this dinner. He envisioned a gigantic statue as the symbol of liberté as the gift to America and Edouard de Laboulaye commissioned him to do the work. Bartholdi traveled to the United States in 1874 and thought that the port of New York would be a fitting place to erect this statue. By 1882 the funds were raised in France by appealing to the French people. Shop keepers, workers, everyone gave, but to raise enough funds lotteries were also organized. Bartholdi started working on the statue and employed Gustave Eiffel (the builder of the Eiffel Tower ) to be the architect. Bartholdi encountered many difficulties, one of which was that the US Congress refused to give the funds to build the pedestal for the statue in New York. Soon after, Edouard de Laboulaye passed away. He had been the spiritual father of the statue.

Painting of the Statue of Liberty under construction in Paris, by Victor Dargaud (courtesy of Musée Carnavalet, Paris.)

The founder of the newspaper, the New York World, Joseph Pulitzer, decided to be the fund raiser for the building of the pedestal and succeeded. In July 1884, in Paris, Bartholdi finished the statue which he had named “La Liberté éclairant le Monde” which means ”Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World." The statue was officially offered to the United States on 4th July 1884 by the French Representative, Ferdinand de Lesseps, the builder of the Suez Canal. In May 1885 the statue, contained within 214 crates, was sent via train to the port of Le Havre. It arrived in the port of New York on board the ship “Isère” on 17 June 1885. It was greeted in port by 100 ships. When the pedestal was finished, the statue was erected and on 28 October 1886, it was inaugurated with president Grover Cleveland and more than a million onlookers attending the ceremony. It had missed the 4th July 1886 date unfortunately.

The statue has always been a favorite of mine. I was pleased that it had been a gift from the French people to the US people. When I came to this country I also traveled by ship from the port of Le Havre to the port of New York. Early on the morning when the ship entered New York harbor I was on top deck, with many other passengers, looking at the statue as it was slowly emerging from the morning fog. It was an impressive sight and even though I had only come for an extended vacation (I thought…), I was impressed and knew that it would mean so much for people looking for new hope and a new life. Sadly, however, a poll was taken in 1986 during the 100 year restoration of the statue and it was learned that only 2% of the American public knew that it had been a gift from the French people.

Since I did not have my camera ready at that time to take my first picture of the New York harbor, here is a postcard I bought while cruising on board the Queen Mary II last December (copyright Cunard).

The statue is 305 feet, 6 inches tall from the base of the pedestal to the tip of the torch; the statue itself is 111 feet, 6 inches tall. A tablet held in her left hand is inscribed with the date of July 4, 1776 in roman numerals JULY IV MDCCLXXVI. When she was inaugurated there were no words on the statue regarding immigration or the masses coming to America , but she was a symbol of the New World and freedom, for most.. not quite yet for people of color.

Picture courtesy Ellis Island Foundation.

In 1903, the last five lines of Emma Lazarus’ poem “The New Colossus” were engraved on a bronze tablet on the statue pedestal:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame,
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
-Emma Lazarus, 1883

The postcard above as well as the two below are from my vintage postcard collection.

The Statue of Liberty endures as a symbol of freedom and friendship between two republics, France and the United States of America.

When the God of Liberty Formed of earth this mortal frame,
Breathed the breath of life in me,

And a spirit I became,

Wrapped within my swaddling bands,

Bound and fettered helplessly,
I stretched forth my infant hands

To embrace sweet Liberty …….

"Till I die, or meet my doom,

On the shameful gallows-tree,
Till the portals of the tomb,
I will shout forth Liberty !"

- Mikael Nalbandian, Armenian Poet 1829-1866

- abridged poem - * Armenians babies were tied tightly to the cradle when they were put to sleep.

The Statue of Liberty is a reminder of the essence of this country. It shows that we have a fraternal bondage with every one who came here. It is a fitting symbol of what is best this country has to offer. It continues to give hope to all the immigrants entering the port of New York. Liberty, or Freedom, is fragile and must not be taken for granted. Every citizen has to be vigilant so as to keep liberty in this land - or it will gradually fade away.

Happy Fourth of July!

Last Minute Update: It has just been reported on national news that the crown on top of the statue will reopen to visitors tomorrow, July 4th, 2009. It had been closed since 9/11. The area is very small and only 8 to 9 persons can fit in it at one time. Tickets are sold-out through the winter.


DJan said...

The really really sad thing, VB, is that the American people are mostly ignorant of the rest of the world. I saw a program the other day that showed some people did not even know that Iran is a country. Did not know anything about the problems there. And in Iran, they not only knew our President, but the Presidents back to FDR! And the Speaker of the House!

Sometimes I am ashamed for my country. But almost every American celebrates the 4th of July and knows the reason why.

Smiles, DJan

Elaine said...

This is a beautiful post! I knew the history of the Statute of Liberty, but you have told its story beautifully. I am often amazed at how little so many people in the US know about history--they have always lived in freedom and don't really realize the great sacrifices that have been made to give us that great gift. My own German and Irish ancestors came into the US through New York, some before and some after Lady Liberty stood in welcome. She is indeed a symbol of the essence of this country, a great melting pot of so many different cultures. We need to remember our roots and our friends throughout the world. In our modern world we are tied together as never before with everyone across the world. I have never had the privilege to visit the Statute of Liberty, but I hope in our journeys over the next few years we will make it there. Thank you for this lovely tribute to Lady Liberty and the people who made her a reality.

Marguerite said...

What a fabulous,interesting post!!! I especially love your photographs and vintage postcards! Happy Fourth!!

Linda Collison said...

You have a way with words and photos. I'm wondering if you're working on a book?

Ruth said...

Thank you for this well written history. I love the illustration/painting of the street scene with the scaffolded statue in the background.

It's very interesting to read about your first visit to NY/US. I would love to travel by ship.

I have seen three Statues of Liberty in Paris - in the Luxembourg, on the Grenelle bridge, and a small replica on a houseboat on the Seine, which I took a photo of. I had always known the statue in the New York harbor was a gift from France, but I can easily believe not a lot of Americans do know that, sadly.

Dina said...

Yours is a wonderful, personal telling of the story. I learned so much.
But the 2% figure saddens me greatly.
I took my kids to America in the mid 1980s and we climbed the crowded spiral staircase up to the statue's crown. Seeing Ellis Island from the ferry was very moving. So many Jews came that route to freedom and security.
Even now, reading the Lazarus poem gives me tears.
Thanks for this post, Vagabonde.
Happy Independence Day!

Carolyn said...

Such a wonderfully well written post and you photos and old picture postcards are wonderful. On this 4th of July may we remember why and how this country began and give thanks and gratitude to those who have given of themselves so that we may live in the land of the brave and free.
Happy 4th of July, Vagabond!

Friko said...

Hi Vagabonde I left a comment on your last post but it obviously got mislaid. It was friendly and complimentary so you surely won't have deleted it? I probably got it wrong, I'm not the greatest computer person.

I have a question for you: did you manage to learn how to pre-date and delay posts? If so, could you tell me how? or tell me where to find instructions?

Love your 4th of July post although it means nothing to me personally. But my family in the US celebrate it and I wish you all a great time.

Paty said...

Yes, there were many intalians immigrants in the past, so italian culture have influenced the states in south of Brazil. You may find people that understands italian, but it´s not usual, though. But it´s not a problem, using italin mixed with spanish and the little you know about portuguese may work, language is not an isssue here, people always get to comunicate with each other! Good weekend!

Frances said...

Thank you for visiting and for your comment.

And ... Happy 4th of July back to you! I once did climb up to that crown and it's grand to know the steps are open again.


Great Grandma Lin said...

very nice history. we climbed to the top of the statue when we went in 1999-it was a marvelous view and moment to be up there after the long climb and it was very small at the top and you had just a moment or two before starting down.

claude said...

Merci de votre passage chez moi.
Je te dis à mardi pour le commencement de la visite de Yellowstone national Park.

claude said...

Je suis contente que tu puisses correspondre en français avec moi.
Pendant presque deux ans je faisais mon blog en français et en anglais mais comme j'ai de plus en plus de lecteurs, je n'ai plus le temps, car je veux visiter chacun. Alors, j'ai mis le traducteur google et suis ravie qu'Abraham Lincon de Brookville dans l'Ohio, bien qu'il ne lise ni ne parle le français, vienne tous les jours sur mon blog et il est très content du traducteur. Bienvenue sur mon blog Vagabonde.

Vagabonde said...

Thank you all for your nice comments. The Tour de France started yesterday so it takes a lot of my time – I watch it live on Versus, about 3 hours in the morning – more TV in 3 weeks than I watch the whole year. I watch it mostly because it shows many villages in France.
Linda – Thanks for the compliments – no I am not working on a book, I’d be afraid to.
Ruth – I did see the replica of the Statue of Liberty in Paris, but I did not have the photograph handy. I saw another replica, of sort, in the back of the Brooklyn Art Museum last November, I’ll try to find the photo and print it.
Dina – I used to go up stairs easily but now with a bad knee, it is not so easy, so I don’t think I would go up to the statue’s crown. Did you take any pictures?
Carolyn – I have many vintage postcards and try to include them in posts whenever I can
Friko – I answered you about how to post date posts – I hope you received the message on your blog, if not, let me know and I’ll send it to you again.
Paty, Frances and Lin – thank you very much for coming over to my blog
Claude – merci de venir me voir et je viendrai mardi pour la suite du voyage a Yellowstone

BJM said...

Greetings and best wishes (belated) for your July 4th celebrations.

Fennie said...

Greetings also from me. Thanks for dropping by my blog and sorry to have been so long in responding.

Most interesting - fascinating. Is the statue covered with copper? Perhaps over the stone work? Or why is it green. And what is it like inside? Is it just a shell with perhaps an iron staircase?

Vagabonde said...

Fennie - Thank you for your visit and comments. The Statue of Liberty is made of copper and is green now because of oxidation coming from the evaporation of the seawater surrounding it. The construction of the skeletal framework was accomplished by Eiffel and was successfully done through the use of gridirons that provided the shape and form of the project. I have not been inside but I know that you have to climb 354 stairs to reach its crown and that there are 25 windows in the crown.

DJan said...

VB: I will post some information about my trips to China, which were all work related. Two included trips to Xinjiang, and one to Macau (which was Chinese controlled at the time).

Namaste, DJan

SurfAnna said...

Hi Vagabonde !
what a great post. I didn't know Eiffel worked on the Statue of Liberty too... For some pictures about the replicas, go and check my french friend's blog here :
Startine :
Vincent :
(the posts are in french :)

ps : je t'ai enfin ajoutée à ma blogoliste, je sais pas pourquoi je ne l'avais pas fait, désolée...

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

This was a beautiful post about the Statue of Liberty, Vagabonde. Having visited it many, many, times in my life I know it's history well. It's sad to think many Americans don't know much about her. Some, I believe, think she has something to do with New York City and not America in its entirety.

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