Have you read Matthew Goodman's Eighty Days, the story of two intrepid female journalists who were the 19th century version of Amazing Race contestants? The book is filled with history nerd goodies. Its brief passage about the Statue of Liberty sent me down a very satisfying rabbit hole. And why, you may be wondering, is the Statue of Liberty included in a book about a race to circle the globe in 1889? Keep reading, and you will find out.
Statue of Liberty fun facts:
- The Statue of Liberty debuted on what was formerly known as Bedloe Island in the New York harbor in 1886. Bedloe was artist Frederic Bartholdi's second choice as a location for his work. Originally he hoped to install a large statue of a woman holding a torch as a lighthouse for the newly completed Suez Canal. But Egypt was low on cash - their cotton profits nosedived when blockades of the Confederacy lifted after the Civil War, and American cotton was back on the market. So Bartholdi had to look elsewhere for a potential location (and buyer!).
- After the Union victory in the Civil War resulted in keeping the union, well, a union (and abolished slavery in the process), a movement arose in France to honor these achievements (The U.S. - France on-again, off-again relationship was ON). It was suggested by one of France's movers and shakers, Eduoard de Laboulaye, that France commemorate our achievements with a grand gesture. Luckily for Bartholdi, Laboulaye was a friend and likely knew Bartholdi had that lady statue project in mothballs. And thus the Statue Formerly Known As An Egyptian Lighthouse was born. Miss Liberty cost about $250,000, all funded by donations from the French people.
- So the statue was built and paid for, but what to place it on? You can't just set a 150-ft. tall copper structure weighing almost half a million pounds on the bare ground! As part of the gift deal, the U.S. agreed to pay for a pedestal since the generous French folk underwrote the statue. The pedestal ended up being just as big of a project, almost the same height as the statue and exceeding its cost by $20,000. But in a post-Civil War, Reconstruction economy, contributions lagged. Portions of the still-disassembled statue were put on display in New York City and elsewhere to generate buzz. It was not until Joseph Pulitzer (yes, that Pulitzer) published this heartfelt appeal in his newspaper, The World, that donations poured in. Most were under $1.*
We must raise the money! The World is the people's paper, and now it appeals to the people to come forward and raise the money. The $250,000 that the making of the Statue cost was paid in by the masses of the French people- by the working men, the tradesmen, the shop girls, the artisans- by all, irrespective of class or condition. Let us respond in like manner. Let us not wait for the millionaires to give us this money. It is not a gift from the millionaires of France to the millionaires of America, but a gift of the whole people of France to the whole people of America.**
- The pedestal's architect, Richard Morris Hunt, was the first American to attend the prestigious Ecole des Beaux Arts academy in Paris. He also founded the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
- Made of copper (think pennies), Liberty was originally brown for her first 30-40 years until the green patina we are so familiar with today gradually appeared.
- The project engineer, in charge of designing an interior framework capable of maintaining structural integrity, was Alexander Eiffel (yes, that Eiffel).
- Liberty's completion was celebrated with New York City's first ticker tape parade.
- Bartholdi is said to have modeled Liberty's face after his mother, Charlotte. This means either he was eligible for Son Of The Year, or had no money to pay models.
*This is the connection to the Eighty Days story - one of the two female globetrotters worked for The World.
**Quote (and much other info in this post) from the National Park Service's Statue of Liberty page.
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