Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Our Miss Liberty was once dead in the water
NEW YORK – America wasn’t so united about France’s offer of a gift of the Statute of Liberty when it was time to raise money to give her a resting place.
People across the great land scoffed at the idea of raising money to pay for a pedestal for the monumental copper and steel sculpture because it was supposed to be, well, a gift.
“Ordinary citizens considered the colossus a rich man’s folly; many rich felt it a populist symbol,” a sign states at a museum inside the granite structure below Miss Liberty that we now consider a global tribute to independence.
But in 1876, after French artist Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi brought a 30-foot arm from his design of the statue to Philadelphia, U.S. newspapers criticized the nearly $300,000 cost of the statue’s underfunded base. Many believed that New Yorkers should be responsible for the price tag until journalist Joseph Pulitzer came to the rescue and urged subscribers to his newspapers to send money while also criticizing the rich for ignoring the call for donations. Pulitzer’s mission brought home the $100,000 that was needed to complete that 10-story base to support the statue that, itself, is 151 feet and 1 inch tall.
I felt like kicking myself with her big foot Saturday for not taking a tour of this island during my several prior trips to New York. It’s indeed a wonder of the world.
The million folks who tour the site each year are just permitted to climb to the base of the statue, up 154 steep steps, to peek into its frame through a Plexiglass window. After making the climb, I found an enthusiastic, young female National Park Service ranger who was well versed in trivia about the big lady above the observation tower.
The ranger said part of the $10 million restoration project that led up the 100th birthday party for the statue in 1986 involved the removal of 7 layers of asbestos coatings around its metal joints. The substance contributed to saltwater erosion that was damaging the sculpture. It was replaced with joints of stainless steel coated with Teflon.
The perch offers great vantage points to see Lower Manhattan, as well as weird ant’s-eye views of Liberty.
If you visit, plan to spend the better part of the day at the statue and nearby Ellis Island. A treasure of a museum over at Ellis walks visitors through the grueling process poor immigrants faced a century ago after they arrived on boats and tried to make their homes in a land of liberty. All the while, the rich passengers on the same steamships of the era were afforded free passage to America.