Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Oct. 28, 2011

The Lady turns 125

The first and last time I saw her was in 1984. She was standing tall and proud, anticipating her 100th birthday celebration two years later.

But I didn't have the chance to see the Lady in her full glory. She was surrounded by scaffolding so workers could give her a make-over.

Twenty-seven years have passed and the Lady - the Statue of Liberty - is again celebrating. She turns 125 today!

Some of the words in Emma Lazarus' 1883 sonnet, "The New Colossus," have stayed with many of us.

"... Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..."

Her words symbolize the statue's message of hope and freedom for immigrants coming to America. A bronze plaque affixed to the pedestal in the early 1900s is dedicated to her contribution to the completion of the Lady's pedestal.

Sometimes I think about my immigrant ancestors seeing the Statue of Liberty and try to imagine their reactions at coming to this land. But the reality is that the statue wasn't even built before most of my immigrant relatives arrived. My Scots-Irish and many of my Swedish ancestors came before 1886. Husband Art's German ancestors came in the 1850s and '60s and his Welsh ones came in the 1840s.

But Grandpa Nels Mostrom, who left Sweden on the Adriatic in October 1909, is the exceptions. He arrived on Dec. 9 and would have seen the young Lady at age 23. But he never mentioned his impressions of catching a glimpse of her for the first time.

And, unfortunately, I never thought to ask.

I can only imagine how grateful he and others must have felt when they finally saw her after spending a month or more on their journey with the final weeks spent on the Atlantic Ocean. They knew they were now only a short distance from their new homes.

I was awed when I saw her in 1984 - in spite of the encircling wood and metal platforms. The United Nations designated her a World Heritage Site that year.

And I'm still somewhat awed when I think of her.

When I found out that she'd be 125 this week, I checked the National Park Service website to learn more about her background.

The project was a joint effort between the U.S. and France to commemorate the centennial of the American Declaration of Independence. The French gave the statue to the people of the United States in recognition of the friendship between the two nations during the American Revolution. French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi was commissioned to complete the design. It was rumored in France that Bartholdi modeled the face after his mother and the body after Jean Emilie, his wife. Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, designer of the Eiffel Tower, engineered the iron pylon and skeletal framework that supports the large copper sculpture. The French were also responsible for shipping and assembly of the statue in the United States.

The American people were to build the pedestal. But lack of funds quickly became a problem on both sides of the Atlantic. In France, public fees, various forms of entertainment and a lottery were used to raise money. In the U.S., theatrical events, art exhibitions, auctions and prize fights helped. Joseph Pulitzer used the editorial pages of his New York newspaper, "The World," to support the fund-raising effort.

The statue wasn't completed until July 1884 and arrived in New York Harbor the following June. It had been reduced to 350 individual pieces packed in 214 crates for shipment. The crates remained in storage until the pedestal was finished the following April. Re-assembled, the Lady was dedicated on Oct. 28,1886 in front of thousands of spectators - a centennial gift 10 years late in the unwrapping.

The statue is 151 feet and 1 inch high. The top of the torch reaches 305 feet 11 inches above the mean low-water mark. It was the largest work of its kind up to that time.

She's been under the care of several entities during her lifetime in New York Harbor. The United States Lighthouse Board had responsibility until 1901. After that, the War Department took over. On Oct. 15, 1924, a Presidential Proclamation declared Fort Wood - the star-shaped fort on Bedloe Island surrounding Ms. Liberty's base - and the statue herself, a National Monument.

In 1933, the care and administration was transferred to the National Park Service, and in 1956, the island's name was changed to Liberty Island.

Newly restored, she celebrated her centennial on July 5, 1986 during Liberty Weekend.

Webcams have since been installed on her torch that will allow people to view New York Harbor, see visitors below and even read the tablet in her hand. They will be turned on today during a ceremony to mark her 125th birthday.

After the celebration, Lady Liberty will once again be closed for a year-long upgrade of her interior parts, including her pedestal, crown and museum. This time, however, outside views of her will remain unobstructed.

So although she's 125 years old, to quote Lazarus' words, she's looking pretty good as: "A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles."

Left: The Lady as I saw her in 1984; right: I happened upon this 100-inch replica outside of Harlan in Northwest Kansas in November 2007. For their 40th anniversary in 1950, the Boy Scouts of America donated the replicas to 39 states. The theme was "Strengthen the Arm of Liberty." It was the idea of Kansas City businessman, J.P. Whitaker, Scout Commissioner of the Kansas City Area Council.

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