The Lady – Still shining bright

She’s a star. She has had major parts in numerous movies, such as Ghostbusters II, X Men, Planet of the Apes and Escape from New York. So it’s no wonder her photo has been taken thousands – or perhaps millions – of times. Her picture has also been on license plates, coins, kitsch, and on postcards. All this continuous fame and Lady Liberty is more than a century old.

The statue was commissioned by the French Third Republic to celebrate America’s centennial in 1876. Sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi and engineer Alexander Gustave Eiffel designed the colossal monument on a framework of 125 tons of steel covered with a 31 ton sheath of pure copper formed in the repousse process. The flame of the torch was to be plated in gold leaf. That is one magnificent birthday gift.The plan was to present the statue to America at the 100th celebration but the only piece ready to view was the arm and torch. The Philadelphia Centennial Exposition put the finished part on exhibit and charged 50 cents a person to climb into the torch. Cash from tours through the Liberty lamp was contributed to the fund for building a base for the statue. The torch was a significant part of the project. For sixteen years the structure served as an official lighthouse and was the first light tower to be powered by electricity.

It was the responsibility of the American people to pay for and construct a suitable base for the statue. An appropriate location was found on the 12-acre Bedloe’s Island in the New York City harbor. The name was changed in 1956 to Liberty Island. The foundation was built on the island inside the star shaped walls of Fort Wood, a War of 1812 fortress. The huge base needed 27,000 tons of concrete to construct and on top of that was placed a 150-foot pedestal of granite from Connecticut.

In 1885 the statue arrived in New York City from France. All 350 pieces remained in storage until the United States completed the massive base.

Each part of the statue has symbolic meanings:

Figure – probably an interpretation of the Roman Goddess of freedom, Libertas

Crown – The seven rays on the crown represent seven seas and seven continents

Tablet – Knowledge. The Roman numerals on the tablet read July 4, 1776

Torch ­– Enlightenment

The feet of the statue also reveal meaningful concepts as Liberty tromps on broken chains, crushing the shackles of subjugation.

The toes exposed through a giant sandal have also been studied. It has been speculated that she wears sandals as finding a shoe size over 800 would be a difficult shopping task, plus shoes might be an uncomfortable fit for her unusual Roman/Greek toes (second toe longer than big toe), a length idiosyncrasy prevalent in only about 20 percent of the population.

By 1984 Liberty was beginning to show her age and 62 million dollars was raised for a full renovation. The entire torch was replaced and the original is now on exhibit in the Liberty museum.

Although the statue stands 152 feet tall, it was not too large a task for the master of prestidigitation extraordinaire David Copperfield to make her disappear and then reappear before a live television audience in 1983; add that to the Statue of Liberty’s entertainment credits.

Not only has Liberty been a star on film, her image has graced postcards for decades. The passing of time is indicated by the low tech “insertions” hovering over the famous statue in this series cards.

Above all the greatness of Liberty, a national monument, the paste master added his own version of progress. Today the cut and paste method seems very primitive – but clip art of the 1930s did add a whimsical look to many standard pictures – especially as proportion was not often taken into consideration. In the postcards here, a dirigible, a bi-plane and what looks like a more modern aircraft, hover in space near Liberty’s shining crown.

The prominence of the Statue of Liberty was recognized by the United Nations in 1984 when it was designated a World Heritage Site – America’s personal declaration of Liberty for all.

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