Thursday, 8 October 2009

The Twisting Tale of the Statue of Liberty

In the 1860s, French sculptor Frédéric Bartholdi visited Egypt and upon seeing the Suez Canal, imagined a huge statue-shaped lighthouse representing a robed Egyptian peasant woman towering over the Canal like the Colossus of Rhodes.
He made plans of his design, but Egyptian leader Ismail the Magnificent was spending too much money modernizing his country to put up statues.

Bartholdi kept nursing the idea, making a small bronze in 1870 using his mother as the model. Then he noticed that America's centennial was coming up in 1876. It might be an opportunity to see his vision through, so he started asking people for money. It was a statue of 'Libertas', he told people, the Roman goddess of liberty.

It was slow going. 1876 came and went with only part of the framing done. In 1878, Bartoldi finished the head and arm and put them on display in America, charging people 50 cents to climb up a ladder and peer out the top. Then he shipped them back and did the same thing in Paris. He held a lottery. He was running out of ideas, and he still only had half a statue.

Meanwhile in America there was little progress. Congress allocated land near Ellis Island to build on, but repeatedly voted down funding for the base. Bartoldi started shopping the idea around to other U.S. cities, with no luck.

Finally in 1885 the statue's French funding was complete, and the structure was shipped over in 350 crates. It languished in a warehouse, as there was nothing to put it on at its location.
Newspaperman Joseph Pulitzer, tired of Congress' failure, raised money from 120,000 subscribers to build the base for the statue. After fending off advertisers wanting to put laxative billboards on the structure, he completed funding.

In October 1886, the gleaming copper statue was assembled and officially opened by President Cleveland. It operated as a lighthouse until 1902.