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Skeleton of Iron, Skin of Copper, Soul of Freedom: Lady Liberty’s Centennial Restoration 1984-1986

Jeffrey Syken

“…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-tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door”

The movie "The Legend of 1900" (1998) – the story of a man who, abandoned as an infant and left in the first-class section of a turn-of-the-century transatlantic liner to hopefully be adopted by a wealthy couple (but instead is adopted by the crew and spends his entire life on-board the ship, going back and forth between the old and new world/s), tells how there was always someone among the passengers who, when spotting the Statue of Liberty, would shout out “America!” However, when sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi placed “Liberty Enlightening the World” atop a beautifully proportioned Pedestal (designed by the noted American architect Richard Morris Hunt), immigrants were not what he had in mind. Rather, the statue was to be a celebration of the long-standing Franco-American friendship and the sister Republic’s mutual love of liberty.

The poet Emma Lazarus saw things a little differently from the get-go when, in 1883, she was asked to create a poem to commemorate this magnificent gift from the people of France to the people of the United States. The result was “The New Colossus,” whereby Ms. Lazarus summed up, with just a few powerful words at the tail-end of her sonnet, the emotions felt by every passenger who ever crowded the port-side of the ship that delivered them to their new life in the new world. The “Lady in the Harbor,” with her torch held high, became an iconic symbol of welcome to the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” For the millions of immigrants and the generations of Americans they spawned, that initial experience remains part of our collective memory, giving this man-made National Monument a special place in the American psyche.

As such, it was with a sense of urgency that the custodians of the monument (and the twelve-acre island it stands upon), the National Park Service, recognized by the early 1980s the deteriorating condition of “Lady Liberty” after nearly one-hundred years exposure to the elements. With the statue’s centennial coming up on July 4, 1986, there was a call-to-action on the part of both the NPS and a Restoration Committee formed to restore the statue and improve its infrastructure and facilities in time for the centennial celebration. In keeping with the original construction, the restoration would be paid for in whole by private contributions. A dedicated army of hardhats and artisans worked in shops and from the world’s largest freestanding scaffolding to get the job done. Get it done they did, correcting structural deficiencies, removing/replacing corroded components and, in the end, making the Statue of Liberty National Monument not only “Immigrant Friendly,” but also “Visitor Friendly.”

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

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