Official name: Liberty Enlightening the World
Designed by: Frederic Auguste Bartholdi and Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel
Maximum Height: 305 feet / 93 meters
Location: Liberty Island, New York, United States
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nstantly recognizable as a symbol of the United States, the statue was built in France and brought across the Atlantic Ocean in pieces in 1886 to mark the alliance between the two countries during America's revolution against England. Written on the tablet in her left hand is the date the United States formally declared independence. Most people don't realize the statue was originally considered a lighthouse, and used as such for many years. The Statue of Liberty is 155-feet-tall and stands on a 150-foot base on Liberty Island (called Bedloe's Island until 1956) in New York Harbor, and can only be accessed by ferry. If you're passing through and only have time to visit the Statue, and not take in the sights of New York City, the best way to get there is from Liberty State Park in New Jersey, which is a quick hop off of the New Jersey Turnpike (Interstate 95). There is plenty of parking, but some people stop at the first pay parking lots they come to, not realizing that closer to the statue the parking is free. If you are arriving from New York, ferries leave from Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan. At the base are museums and gift shops, usually mobbed by tourists. Look for a plaque with a passage by Emma Lazarus called The New Colossus. It contains the "huddled masses" line that is engraved in so many American minds from childhood.
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-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Getting to the upper observation level takes a little work, but not as much as other world monuments. There is an elevator for the first 10 stories where the first observation deck is. To get to the higher, crown observation deck, you have to walk another 12 stories. A third observation deck in the statue's torch was closed in 1916. The statue underwent a highly-publicized renovation in time for its 100th birthday in 1986. Seeing Lady Liberty clad in scaffolding for months bothered even the once-jaded New Yorkers. Streaks of discoloration on her copper skin led to speculation in the press that workers were urinating on the statue rather than climbing off the scaffolding to take care of business. This was never proven. Some people also believe that the the statue is is New Jersey, not New York. This is an urban myth. While Liberty Island is geographically closer to New Jersey than New York, it is part of the Empire State the same way Staten Island is, even though it, too, is closer to New Jersey than New York City. There was, however, a long-standing dispute between the states of New York and New Jersey over the Ellis Island immigration station. After it was abandoned, the island was converted into a popular tourist attraction, which infuriated New Jersey. The Garden State had given the island to New York for immigration use, and now wanted a piece of the tax revenue being generated by the tourists. In the 1990's a federal court ruled that the Ellis Island immigration station is, indeed, part of the state of New York. However, it also ruled that all of the land added to the island by New York since it was originally donated is part of New Jersey since the island was expanded into New Jersey waters. When that ruling was made, technically you could stand inside the building and be in New York, then step outside and be in New Jersey. Subsequent court rulings have given the entire complex over to New York.
Though majestic in appearance now, the early days of the Statue of Liberty were rough. For a long time there was much controversy over whether the United States should even accept the gift from France. These were different and uncertain times. The French Revolution had ended just a few decades earlier and in many parts of the world the concepts of civility and order were shaky ones. What we now see as a symbol of freedom and immigration was intended to be a statement on the power of Republicanism. It was a gift to America for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Republic. Many, however viewed it as a symbol of revolution and a call to overthrow America's war-battered government. The Civil War had ended not that long ago and the union of states was still fragile, battered, and bruised. Bringing a massive symbol into the nation from a country that had recently overthrown its government didn't seem like the wisest course of action to many.
Before the statue's 350 pieces could be assembled on the old military fort on Bedloe's Island someone had to pay to have it delivered. Backers of the project managed to scrape together enough money to have her torch-bearing arm sent over first. This was put on display at Madison Square Garden (a different building than the MSG of today) to convince people to donate money to the cause. Eventually enough money was raised and the statue came to America.
As inseparable as New York is from its statue, to modern eyes the statue wouldn't be the same without its poem, The New Colossus, quoted above. Again, this is a re-interpretation of the facts of the matter. The poem wasn't added to the statue until 1900, and even then only reluctantly.
Joseph Pulitzer was among those who believed in the task. He convinced the nation's greatest poets to take part in a poetry auction to benefit the statue. The winner was Emma Lazarus, whose poem brought in a bid of $1,500. But Emma was never fully behind the idea. At first, she refused to write any poetry at all for the contest, insisting that she was not some kind of trained animal that could bark out poetry on command. Eventually she acquiesced, and penned the words we see today.
Emma Lazarus' vision of the Statue of Liberty did much to shape how we see the monument today. The people who built her envisioned the statue as a Roman Goddess. To Lazarus, she was a welcoming mother, and specifically called her "Mother of Exiles" in the poem because she was upset with the treatment of Jews in Russia and Germany.
As passionate as Lazarus was about the statue, her words languished in obscurity for a third of a century. It wasn't until 1936 when president Franklin D. Roosevelt gave a speech about immigration at the Statue of Liberty and specifically quoted the Lazarus poem that her notions of the statue's purpose because widely known and accepted by the public.
- Bedloe's Island was named for Isaac Bedloe, the Dutch immigrant who settled there before it was purchased by the U.S. government for military use.
- It is believed that the face of the Statue of Liberty was modeled after Charlotte Bartholdi, the sculptor's mother. It is believed that the statue bears the body of his wife's, Jeanne-Emilie Bartholdi. But the sculptor never confirmed these public suspicions.
- While Bartholdi was responsible for the sculpture's skin, it was Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel who designed its supportive scafoolding.
- The copper skin of the statue is about the same thickness as two pennies.
- There are about a dozen people who live on Liberty Island full-time.
- 1876: The statue's completed right hand and torch are on display at the Philadelphia Exposition while the rest of the statue is still being built in France.
- November 5, 2000: Protesters took over the Statue of Liberty's head. One walked around outside while the others secured the interior. They hung flags from Puerto Rico and Vieques on the statue's crown to protest U.S. Naval exercises on the island of Vieques. Eleven people were arrested.
- December 22, 2000: The torch was lit on a replica of the Statue of Liberty erected at the Fuji Television headquarters in Tokyo. It stands 34-feet tall on Tokyo Bay. It is only 25% the size of the one in New York, but larger than the one in Paris which was lent to Tokyo in early 2000. It proved such a hit that Fuji TV built their own.
- August 23, 2001: A man tries to buzz the Statue of Liberty in a motorized parasail. He ends up getting stuck on the statue's torch and is arrested.
- September 11, 2001: Liberty Island is closed to the public after terrorists attack the World Trade Center.
- December 20, 2001: Liberty Island reopens to the public amid heightened security. The statue, itself, remains closed.
- July, 2004: The statue partially re-opens to the public. Following millions of dollars in security upgrades, people are allowed onto the pedestal observation deck. The rest of the statue remains off limits.
- July 4, 2009: The Statue of Liberty's crown once again opened to the public. At first, only 30 randomly chosen people an hour were allowed in. That number was later increased.
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