Sunday, July 14, 2024

An American icon, Liberty enlightens the world

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“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-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Those final lines of “The New Colossus,” a poem by Emma Lazarus, are engraved on a bronze plaque on Lady Liberty’s pedestal at the Statue of Liberty National Monument on Liberty Island, New York.

According to statueofliberty.org, French Historian Edouard de Laboulaye made the proposal for the statue in 1865. He wished to commemorate the upcoming centennial anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 1876 and was equally moved by the recent abolition of slavery in the U.S. The statue would be a gift from France to the U.S., and a monument to freedom.

The monument was designed by French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi. The metal framework was built by Gustave Eiffel — who would later build the Eiffel Tower. The project became a joint venture between France and the U.S. when Bartholdi traveled to the United States in 1871 with letters of introduction from Laboulaye.

France funded the construction and transportation of the nearly 225-ton, 115-foot, copper-and-steel megalith from France to what was then known as Bedloe's Island in New York. (It was renamed Liberty Island in 1956.) The U.S. donated the land and funded the construction of the 89-foot pedestal, according to britannica.com.

Work began in France in 1875 but the ongoing Franco-Prussian War interrupted the building of the statue for several years. For Americans, funding for the pedestal proved difficult.

Lazarus wrote “The New Colossus” in 1883 to raise money for the pedestal's construction. Joseph Pulitzer – American publisher of the New York World at the time – continued the fundraising effort in 1885 to raise additional money. More than 120,000 people contributed an average of what would today be $30 per person.

The Statue of Liberty was dedicated in 1886 with the title “Liberty Enlightening the World,” and is fashioned after the Roman goddess, Libertas, bearing a torch in her right hand raised above her head. Cradled in her left arm, she carries a tablet inscribed simply “July 4, 1776” in Roman numerals. She is posed stepping forward with a broken shackle and chain at her feet. The American-built pedestal has supported this colossus for more than 130 years.

Since its dedication, the statue has become an icon of American independence and a symbol of welcome to immigrants arriving by sea.

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