Friday, July 5, 2013

Lady Liberty

Today is Friday, July 5, 2013.

The Statue of Liberty was opened to the public once again yesterday, in time for Independence Day.  The statue itself did not suffer damage from Superstorm Sandy, but the infrastructure on Liberty Island, on which the statue sits, and Ellis Island, also a major tourist attraction, were damaged in the storm.  Specifically, the dock where the ferries unloaded all the tourists suffered damage.  Although Liberty Island is once again open, Ellis Island remains closed to tourists.

Most of us are aware by now that the statue was a gift from France, but that thee Americans were required to pay for the pedestal.  The statue and the pedestal were paid for by donations, a vast majority of them less than one dollar, with many donations on both sides of the Atlantic coming from schoolchildren.

The statue itself was designed by sculptor Frédéric Bartholdi.  The right arm and the head were constructed first, starting in 1875.  The arm was on display in New York at Madison Square Park for several years before it was sent back to France to join the rest of the statue.  The head was on display at the 1878 Paris World's Fair.   The statue's face is modeled after Bartholdi's mother, Charlotte.

Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, the master builder behind the famous Eiffel Tower in Paris showed Bartholdi how to build the body of the statue so that the outer skin was not load-bearing, but instead supported by a metal framework.  Four iron columns support a framework which is covered by a "skin" that is only 3/32ths of an inch thick. 

The skin of the statue is somewhat pliable, and can move with the wind and absorb changes when the metal expands on hot summer days.  The inner framework is made of iron, and the outer skin is copper, which has turned green due to oxidation.  At one point, it was feared that the statue would have to be painted, but it was determined that the green patina actually protects the statue from further damage, so only the inside was painted. 

The original plan called for the statue to function as a lighthouse, but the light from the torch was so weak that the plan was dropped.  Powerful lighting was installed in time for the Bicentennial in 1976, but the statue is still not functional as a lighthouse. 

Admission to the statue is free, but tourists have to buy a ferry ticket to get to Liberty Island.  If you want to actually enter the statue, you have to get a separate ticket, and if you really, really want to climb the 354 steps to the crown, you have to get still another ticket, which can be reserved up to a year in advance.  Keep in mind that only 240 people per day can climb to the crown, 10 at a time.  Everyone has to go through a security screening before getting on  the ferry, and if you climb to the crown, it's another security screening, and you can only take your camera and medications to the top.  Everything else has to be put into a locker.

The statue weights 62,000 pounds.  It came to the United States on a ship in about 210 boxes and had to be re-assembled here, once the pedestal was completed.  The crown has 7 spikes, representing 7 continents and 7 seas.  There are 25 windows in the observation deck in the crown. 

The statue has been renovated several times.  In 1984, the statue got a new torch, covered with 24k gold-leaf.  The original torch is housed in a museum. 

The statue has not been without its critics.  Shortly after the dedication, on October 28, 1886, the Cleveland Gazette, an African-American newspaper, suggested that the statue's torch should not be lit until freedom was a reality for black Americans. 

"Liberty enlightening the world," indeed! The expression makes us sick. This government is a howling farce. It can not or rather does not protect its citizens within its own borders. Shove the Bartholdi statue, torch and all, into the ocean until the "liberty" of this country is such as to make it possible for an inoffensive and industrious colored man to earn a respectable living for himself and family, without being ku-kluxed, perhaps murdered, his daughter and wife outraged, and his property destroyed. The idea of the "liberty" of this country "enlightening the world," or even Patagonia, is ridiculous in the extreme.

Some would agree with that comment even today.  Native Americans in the United States do not celebrate Independence Day (July 4) as do the majority of Americans, and these days the anger is more and more palpable.  

With the issue of immigration reform looming in Congress, lines from Emma Lazarus' poem "The New Colossus," which was written in honor of the statue, are also a touchy subject.  Here is the entire poem.

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!"

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Notes:  1) The brazen giant of Greek fame was the original statue called Colossus of Rhodes, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  2)  The "air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame" refers to New York City and Brooklyn, which were not yet considered one unit at the time.
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These days, there are those who would rather not have any more "wretched refuse" of anyone else's teeming shore, thank you very much.  In this respect, it seems that the poem has done immigrants in this country a disservice, because of the indelible mental image of immigrants created by the poem.  In fact, the vast majority of immigrants are in not anyone's "wretched refuse."   Statistics show that immigrants in this country tend to work hard at jobs that natural citizens shun, and they tend to start more new businesses than natural citizens.  :-)

For more information on the immigration reform legislation, visit my blog entry from May 30.   For more info on undocumented immigrants, see my blog for the following day.

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