Vi-An Nguyen July 14, 2017 – 5:00 AM
More than 12 million immigrants entered the U.S. through the Ellis Island gateway from 1892 to 1954, with its majestic neighbor, the Statue of Liberty, welcoming them home. (Find out if your family came through Ellis Island by searching the passenger list.)
In honor of the Fourth of July, Parade asked Elizabeth Mitchell, author of the book Liberty’s Torch, an account of the Statue of Liberty’s bumpy history and the life of her creator, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, to reveal some little-known facts about America’s most famous monument.
We take the iconic Statue of Liberty for granted—it’s the perfect backdrop for celebrations of American patriotism. But few people know the fascinating story of how she came to be and how one quirky visionary, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, battled naysayers, engineering impossibilities, and a raging storm during transport to put the Lady on her feet in New York Harbor.
My book, Liberty’s Torch: The Great Adventure to Build the Statue of Liberty, tells the improbable journey of the statue from one artist’s whimsical inspiration to the feverish labors of supporters from Gustave Eiffel to Mark Twain to the penny donors of old New York tenements.
Here are just 10 of the little-known facts about America’s colossus:
1. The Statue of Liberty was not a gift from France to America.
We have all heard the shorthand that implies that the statue was exchanged government to government. In fact, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, a mid-career statue maker, decided to pitch a country he had never visited before on his vision to build a massive lighthouse in the shape of a woman. In his diaries and letters, he described his journey to all corners of America, from Niagara Falls to Washington, D.C., from Chicago to Los Angeles, to explore this exotic land and drum up support.
When no significant government funding emerged, he contrived every possible fundraising strategy himself. He put on spectacles of wonder in Paris, charged visitors admission to watch the statue’s construction in a dusty workshop, sold souvenirs, and petitioned the French government to let him run a national lottery.
In the end, it was Joseph Pulitzer, the American newspaper magnate, who helped him finish the job by printing the names of every person who donated even a penny to the cause. This strategy rapidly boosted the circulation of Pulitzer’s newspaper when readers bought a copy simply to see their names in the paper—a brilliant marketing strategy.
2. The Statue was originally designed for the Suez Canal in Egypt.
Bartholdi did not craft the basic design of Liberty specifically for America. As a young man, he had visited Egypt and was enchanted by the project underway to dig a channel between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. At Paris world’s fair of 1867, he met with the Khedive, the leader of Egypt, and proposed creating a work as wondrous as the pyramids or sphinxes. He then designed a colossal woman holding up a lamp and wearing the loose fitting dress of a fellah, a slave, to stand as a lighthouse at the entrance of the Suez Canal. The Egypt deal fell through, so Bartholdi decided to adventure to America to pitch his colossus.
3. Americans were very slow to welcome Bartholdi’s statue.
So how excited were Americans about the possibility of giving a home to this new monument? Initial fundraising and support were extremely lackluster. It took about 15 years, with the statue completed and assembled in a neighborhood of Paris, before the American citizenry finally began to embrace it.
4. The statue’s torch was exhibited in Philadelphia—and she almost ended up there.
The torch was exhibited to great success at the 1876 world’s fair in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia; fairgoers paid admission to climb up into the torch and take in the view from the top. With the funds raised from that exhibit, Bartholdi finally had enough capital to build the statue’s head. He was so pleased with Philadelphia’s reception to the statue that for a time he considered giving it to them instead of New York.
5. The Statue of Liberty also nearly went to Boston.
In 1882, when the statue was well under construction in Paris, but fundraising efforts were stalling in New York, Boston made a play to get the statue. Proving that nothing motivates New Yorkers so well as rivalry, the New York Times retorted in an editorial:
“[Boston] proposes to take our neglected statue of Liberty and warm it over for her own use and glory. Boston has probably again overestimated her powers. This statue is dear to us, though we have never looked upon it, and no third rate town is going to step in and take it from us. Philadelphia tried to do that in 1876, and failed. Let Boston be warned . . . that she can’t have our Liberty … that great light-house statue will be smashed into … fragments before it shall be stuck up in Boston Harbor.”
America the Unique: Celebrating Our True National Treasures
6. New York City’s Central Park and Prospect Park were both considered as locations.
When Bartholdi first arrived in New York in 1871, he considered Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and the newly constructed Central Park as possible locations for the statue. Had he chosen to build the Statue of Liberty in Central Park, the famed Dakota apartment building would not even have reached to her big toe.
7. The statue was originally supposed to be a lighthouse.
When Ulysses Grant authorized the use of Bedloe Island (now Liberty Island) for the statue, he specified that the Statue of Liberty would be a lighthouse. That would give the Lady a purpose, and therefore, would merit government funding. However, the engineers were never able to successfully light it enough to serve that purpose—a cause of extreme frustration for Bartholdi. Over time, it would be clear that the site of Bedloe’s Island was too far inland for it to be a good position for a lighthouse, anyway.
8. Bartholdi planned for the statue to be covered in gold.
In order to make the statue visible after dark, Bartholdi proposed that Americans raise the money to gild her. However, given how daunting and arduous a task it had been to gather even enough money to place the statue in New York Harbor, no one followed through on paying the enormous cost of covering the massive statue in gold.
9. Thomas Edison once had plans to make the statue talk.
When Edison introduced the phonograph to the public in 1878, he told the newspapers that he was designing a “monster disc” for the interior of the Statue of Liberty that would allow the statue to deliver speeches that could be heard up to the northern part of Manhattan and across the bay. Thankfully, no one pursued that strange promise, which would have led to the odd experience of walking in New York and suddenly hearing the Statue of Liberty “talking.”
10. Suffragettes protested the unveiling of the statue.
When it was unveiled in October 1886, women’s rights groups lamented that an enormous female figure would stand in New York Harbor representing liberty, when most American women had no liberty to vote.
Only two women attended the actual unveiling on what is now known as Liberty Island: Bartholdi’s wife, and the 13-year-old daughter of Ferdinand de Lesseps, the French engineer who had designed the Suez Canal. The wives of the American Committee members were forced to watch the proceedings from a navy vessel off the island. Suffragettes chartered a boat to circle the island during the unveiling. They blasted protest speeches, but those could not be heard over the din of steam whistles and cannon blasts in the harbor.
This article was originally published on July 2, 2014.
The Statue of Liberty Was Inspired by an Arab Woman or Muslim Woman-Truth! & Fiction!
Sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi modeled the Statue of Liberty after a Muslim woman.
There are parallels between the Statute of Liberty and earlier plans for a statue of an Arab peasant woman by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi — but historians have said that it’s an oversimplification to say that the Statue of Liberty was modeled after a Muslim woman.
Rumors that the inspiration for the Statue of Liberty was an Arab peasant woman began circulating in November 2015, but they took on new life after President Trump signed an executive order temporarily suspending immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries in early 2017. Claims that statue designer Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s inspiration for the Statue of Liberty was an Arab woman was held up as proof that Trump’s immigration ban was contrary to American values and ideals.
The Daily Beast was among the first to report that the Statue of Liberty was inspired by a Muslim woman at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015. In 2017, when Trump’s executive order on immigration again made refugees and immigration a topic of conversation PRI filed a similar report that was quickly picked up by other media outlets.
Politics aside, it’s true that a statue of an Arab peasant woman plays a prominent role in the State of Liberty’s origin story — but historical records indicate that it might be a bit of a stretch to say that the Statue of Liberty was inspired by Arab woman.
French designer Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s inspiration for the Statue of Liberty has been fairly well documented throughout history. Bartholdi’s first inspiration was a 110-foot statue of the Greek sun god Helios, commonly known as the “Colossus of Rhodes.” Author Barry Moreno writes in his book, “The Statue of Liberty,” that, “The Colossus of Rhodes influenced Bartholdi’s bold plans for the statue of Libertas. Like Helios, Libertas would stand at the entrance to a harbour, would hold aloft a lamp, and would have upon her head a nimbus (in the form of a spiked halo). But Helios stood only 110 feet high, while Libertas was to rise to a height of 151 feet 1 inch.
But the Colossus of Rhodes was also the inspiration for a previous statue that Bartholdi designed for a lighthouse at the approach of the Suez Canal: the Arab peasant woman. Moreno writes:
“Auguste Bartholdi’s first important venture into modeling a great monument in the tradition of the Colossus of Rhodes was called Egypt Carrying the Light to Asia. In 1867, the sculptor proposed building this colossus for the reigning Egyptian khedive, Isma’il Pasha. Taking the form a veiled Egyptian peasant woman, the statue was to stand 86 feet high, and its pedestal was to rise to a height of 48 feet. Fearing it would incur too great an expense, Isma’il Pasha rejected the offer in 1869.
Tabletop clay renderings of Bartholdi’s design for “Egypt Carrying the Light to Asia” bear a striking resemblance to the Statue of Liberty: This early rendering of “Egypt Carrying the Light to Asia” features a peasant woman and has a strong resemblance to the Statue of Liberty.
Edward Berenson writes one of the most comprehensive accounts of how Bartholdi’s Egyptian colossus transformed into Lady Liberty in his book, “The Statue of Liberty: A Transatlantic Story.” The transformation began in the fall of 1869:
Art Historians have found a series of sketches and clay models apparently done between the spring of 1870 and the spring of 1871 in which the Egyptian figure gradually became Roman and Greek. Whether Egyptian of neoclassical, all shared an up-streteched arm, usually but not always the right arm, holding a torch. The other arm is down by the waist. In some models, especially the Egyptian ones, the breasts are prominent. In other, they are barely visible. Ultimately Liberty emerged as far more androgynous than her khedival ancestor. And she left her Egyptian roots behind, she shed her North African dress for the draped garments of ancient Greece. Although the source of light ultimately shifted from her crown to her torch, sketches from the mid-1870s still show beams of light radiating from Liberty’s head. But by mid 1817, the statue’s headdress became a diadem with seven ray-like spokes, said to embody the Masonic symbolism of the enlightening sun. The rays projected outward toward the Earth’s seven continents. Other newly added elements included the broken chains of slavery trampled under Liberty’s feet and, to emphasize the point, another broken chain in her left hand.
Judging from historical accounts, the Colossus of Rhodes was Bartholdi’s inspiration for the Statue of Liberty and an earlier design of Arab peasant woman. So, while it’s true that the Arab peasant woman played a prominent role in the Statue of Liberty’s origin story — it’s not entirely accurate to say that the Statue of Liberty was inspired by a Muslim woman or an Arab woman. That’s why we’re calling this one Truth and Fiction.
A real example of the eRumor as it has appeared on the Internet:Collected on: 02/09/2017
The Statue of Liberty Story, From Egypt to New York
Archived from Arab American Almanac, 6th Edition
In 1986 “Arab-Americans for Liberty,” under the chairmanship of Casey Kasem, Los Angeles, held fund-raising events in Washington, D.C. and other cities and solicited donations toward the group’s $100,000 pledge for the restoration work on the Statue of Liberty. Arab-Americans contributed to the restoration of the statue and the Liberty Week Centennial celebrations. Los Angeles musician Dr. A. Jihad Racy played traditional Arab music at an ethnic folk festival in Lower Manhattan as part of the Liberty Week festivities. Other Arab-American musicians from New York included Dr. Simon Saheen, playing oud and violin, and Hanna Mirhije, playing percussion.
The Arabic roots of the Statue of Liberty go back to Egypt, when its sculptor Fredric Auguste Bartholdi, influenced by Egypt’s great monuments and pyramids, was commissioned to create a statue to be called the “Statue of Progress” for the entrance of the Suez Canal, according to the following excerpt taken from the book The Statue of Liberty by Marvin Trachtenberg, Viking Press, 1976: “Frederic Auguste Bartholdi in 1856 accompanied Leon Gerome, Bally, and Berchere – a group of orientalist painters – on a long trip to Egypt, a fashionable undertaking at the time. Bartholdi, very serious about the trip, not only made a number of remarkably good photographs (then becoming the rage), but took careful note of the great monuments that had drawn him on so long a journey. And it was this voyage up the Nile that seems to really have brought out his latent attraction to the colossal classical sculpture.
“The Egypt of Thebes and Abu Simbel remained for all to behold, and admire it Bartholdi most passionately did. Thirty years later (after an intermediate visit) he wrote:
“‘We are filled with profound emotion in the presence of these colossal witnesses, centuries old, of a past that to us is almost infinite, at whose feet so many generations, so many million existences, so many human glories, have rolled in the dust. These granite beings, in their imperturbable majesty, seem to be still listening to the most remote antiquity. Their kindly and impassible glance seems to ignore the present and to be fixed upon an unlimited future. These impressions are not the result simply of a beautiful spectacle, nor of the poetry of historic remembrances. They result from the character of the form and the expression of the work in which the design itself expresses after a fashion infinity.’
“Though his academic scruples prevented him from ever imitating Egyptian art directly – except for certain architectural references – its grandiose success in the colossal mode haunted him, and the dream of equalling it became a mainspring of his life.
“To a large extent this ambition can be said to have been fulfilled, for by far his most successful works – and they did bring him great fame – were the Liberty and the Lion of Belfort, a patriotic memorial to the town’s heroic defenders of 1871 built into the cliffs below the fortress in the form of a 22 by 11 meter feline – a cross between Khafre’s Sphinx at Gizeh and Thorvaldsen’s Lion of Lucerne.
“The impetus for Bartholdi’s two colossi came out of the war of 1870-71 and its aftermath. But already in the late years of the Second Empire, Bartholdi, encouraged, it seems, by the Empress Eugenie herself, had approached Khedewi Ismail Pasha, ruler of Egypt, with a project during his visit to Paris in connection with the Universal Exposition of 1867.
“Bartholdi saw the possibility of achieving a colossal project in the land of his dreams. Its location was to be at the entrance to the Suez Canal nearing completion in 1867 when Bartholdi first proposed it. In form a colossal Fallah (fallah, in Arabic, means farmer) many times life-size and holding aloft a torch, the theme being ‘Progress’ or ‘Egypt carrying the Light to Asia’, it was to be the embodiment of Ismail’s efforts at Europeanization and referred particularly to the great new canal itself. It was to serve as a lighthouse, thus recalling the Pharaohs of Alexandria.
“Bartholdi worked on the Suez project intermittently over the two succeeding years experimenting with the movement of the figure in a number of clay maquettes and drawings. In 1869 he attended the festive opening ceremonies of the canal (for which Verdi’s Aida was commissioned, although not completed in time), taking the opportunity to solicit Ismail again. His response was encouraging; he even involved himself in the scheme sufficiently to suggest that the light be carried not in the hand but native style – atop the head. However, Ismail’s interest was transient; more pressing problems were soon to confront him. Bartholdi traveled to America the next summer, and the Suez colossal sculpture project was dropped.