The famous symbol of America reopens to tourists Tuesday
Now it is revered as a national symbol, but in the beginning the Statue of Liberty didn't get much respect. France's grand gift of friendship was first greeted with an "it'll never happen" attitude from Americans. When it began to look as though the French were going to pull it off, the project was dismissed as "New York's lighthouse," not a national treasure.
On Sept. 11, 2001, the statue of "Liberty Enlightening the World" (its actual title) was closed to the public. Officials were concerned that the statue would be the target of a terrorist attack.
The statue is scheduled to be reopened Tuesday, though visitors will no longer be able to climb the stairs to the viewing platform in the crown. (The ladder to the torch has been closed since 1916.) Visitors will gaze up into the statue's interior through a thick glass ceiling at the uppermost level of the pedestal. Enhanced lighting and a new video system have been installed. Visitors may walk out onto the pedestal's observation deck once more, but they will have to make reservations to tour inside the pedestal. For the price of a ferry ride anyone can tour Liberty (formerly Bedloe's) Island - and visit the gift shop.
We may have Joseph Pulitzer to thank for the statue being in New York. At one point, funds to build the statue's pedestal had run out, and construction on the barely-begun base had ceased. Meanwhile, workers in France were completing the statue. A committee from Boston reportedly approached the French and offered to host the statue there. San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Cleveland also expressed interest - even Baltimore and Minneapolis. Pulitzer began to campaign tirelessly for the pedestal fund. Within five months, the necessary funds had been raised.
Summer 1865 Antislavery leader Edouard de Laboulaye conceives the idea for the Statue of Liberty at a gathering in his home near Versailles, France. It is shortly after Lincoln's assassination, an event the French feel deeply. De Laboulaye proposes a very large gift to the United States to honor the historic amitié (friendship) between the two nations. The people of France will create and pay for a statue. The people of America will fund and construct a pedestal for it. Sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi is sent to America to study the situation. By the time he lands in New York, he has an idea.
November 1875 The Franco-American Union is formed to make plans and collect funds. Construction of the statue begins.
January 1877 The American Committee for the construction of the pedestal is created. Fundraising is hampered by apathy and setbacks.
July 1882 The French have raised $250,000. Two years later, the completed statue towers over Paris.
January 1884 The Americans have raised only $125,000. That fall, work on the pedestal ceases for lack of funds.
March 16, 1885 Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the New York World, renews the paper's pedestal-fund campaign. With word in April that the statue has been taken apart and is being packed for shipment, the fundraising becomes a crusade - and is completed in less than five months.
June 17 The French ship Isere arrives in New York with 214 specially constructed crates containing the statue's 350 pieces.
April 22, 1886 The last stone of the pedestal is put into place on Bedloe's Island. The iron framework is ready to receive the shaped copper sections.
Oct. 28, 1886 The statue of 'Liberty Enlightening the World' is dedicated, and the torch is illuminated.
1986 Marking Lady Liberty's centennial, a two-year, $87 million restoration of the statue is completed.
Originally copper, the torch always presented a lighting challenge. In 1916 it was redesigned with yellow glass and lit from within; now it is covered with gold leaf and lighted by powerful spotlights.
Lady Liberty's steel skeleton was the brainchild of Gustave Eiffel, later of Eiffel Tower fame; it was first overhauled in 1937. The iron and steel girders were all replaced with stainless steel during an overhaul completed in 1986. Like a new penny, Lady Liberty's copper skin was shiny at first, but - by design - soon weathered to a stately green patina.
Richard M. Hunt designed the massive granite pedestal, which now is all a visitor gets to tour. At the pedestal's top is a new glass ceiling through which one can glimpse the statue's innards. (Hey, it used to take three hot hours to climb to the crown anyway.)
The Lady herself is a formidable 111 ft. 1 in. tall - her nose alone is 4 ft. 6 in. From the base of the pedestal to the tip of the torch, the statue measures just under 307 feet. Her sandal is 25 feet long - that would be a woman's size 879. Next to her foot is a broken shackle, symbolizing freedom. The 11-pointed wall that surrounds the pedestal is the remains of Fort Wood, built to protect New York Harbor in 1808-11.