In honor of the 129th anniversary of the dedication of Lady Liberty, we decided to share some little known facts about one of America’s most iconic landmarks.
From her perch on Liberty island, she watches over ships and their cargo as they entered New York Harbor. True to the intended design of being a shining beacon welcoming the “…tired, poor,the huddled masses yearning for freedom…,” Lady Liberty has become synonymous with America and freedom.
Originally named Liberty Enlightening the World, the Statue is actually more accessible than you’d think. It’s surrounded by a bank of live-action cameras that you can visit online and watch the statue in real-time.
Measuring 305 ft 1 in., from the ground to the tip of the flame, the statue’s foot is 25 ft long (that’s a U.S. women’s shoe size of 879), and if Edison had his way, she’d be ‘speaking’ to you. The inventor wanted to install a large disc with recorded messages, so she could ‘deliver speeches’ that could be heard across the bay. Thankfully that didn’t pan out, it would have been really weird, even for Edison.
Here are ten more facts about one of the world’s most recognizable landmarks.
10. How Much Is She Worth?
At 151 ft 1 in., from the base to torch, the Statue was once the tallest structure in the USA, even longer than the Brooklyn Bridge. Constructing this monument required 300 sheets of copper, hammered to the thickness of two pennies and riveted together over a wood frame. The construction cost the French $250,000 in 1886, around $6,410,256 today. But what is it worth now?
Assuming we want to scrap the structure for quick cash, how much can we get for all that copper? The statue weighs 62,000 pounds, and scrap copper is selling for $2.00 per pound today. So the Statue of Liberty contains $ 124, 000 worth of scrap copper. Adding the extra 250,000 pounds of scrap steel, you can get another $3,000 totaling $127,000 – a far cry from the $6M+ that it cost to build; thank goodness America isn’t cash-strapped.
9. Conspiracy Theories Abound
Many see the Statue as an enduring symbol of freedom and democracy, but conspiracy theorists believe the statue harbors much darker secrets. They claim it’s the resting place of the Holy Grail, that the face was based on Elvis Presley, that it’s an Illuminati monument. Many of these claims stem from the fact that the architect and builder, Bartholdi and Eiffel were both Freemasons.
These theorists claim the statue was erected as a physical and metaphorical symbol of the Illuminati’s power over everyone. They go on to point out the similarities between Lady Liberty and the Olympic Torch, the Columbia Pictures logo and Rockefeller’s Standard Oil logo, all companies ‘controlled’ by the Illuminati.
8. It was Used as a Lighthouse
Other conspiracy theorists say the statue represents Lucifer “The light bearer.” They may be partially right on that score as the island once served as a lighthouse. In November, 1886, President Cleveland mandated that the statue be outfitted to serve as an actual lighthouse. Engineers from the Lighthouse Board fitted the statue with the equipment needed for its new role.
However, upon completion of the job, the results were quite….dim. The light cast from the Statue was very poor, and deemed too dim to be effective. Over time, it became clear that Liberty Island was too far inland to be a good position for a lighthouse in the first place.
Things may have turned out differently if Bartholdi’s original plan had been followed. Early on, the sculptor realized that the statue would be mostly invisible after dark, so he proposed that Americans raise money to gild the whole structure. Faced with the gargantuan cost, nobody followed through on that request.
7. History of Crowd-funding
The statue has a long history of being short of funds. When it was built and shipped to the USA in 1886, the pedestal it was going to rest on hadn’t been built. The city hadn’t succeeded in raising the funds required to build one.
Newspaper entrepreneur, Joseph Pulitzer used his paper to campaign for small donations from the populace. A token donation would earn the reader their name in an edition of the paper. In many cases, schoolchildren sent in their lunch pennies to help the effort. The $270,000 required was soon raised and the statue was erected.
A century later, with the statue needing extensive repair, President Reagan appealed to private citizens for donations once more. Everyone, including schoolchildren chipped in again to raise the one million dollars required for Lady Liberty.
6. Different Country, Different Model
But for a twist in the tale, the green patina of Lady Liberty would never have been seen. This is because Bartholdi’s original design wasn’t of the Roman goddess, Libertas, but of a Middle Eastern slave woman. In another case of funding issues, Egypt declined the 300 ft statue of a robed female slave holding up a torch.
The statue was originally supposed to stand at the mouth of the Suez Canal. With the Egyptians bailing on him, the persistent Frenchman pitched the idea to the USA, albeit with a few design changes and the rest is history.
5. The Incident at Black Tom Island
Not all sections of the statue is accessible to the public; since 1916, the torch has been off limits. This stems from an incident where German soldiers set fire to munitions stored on Black Tom Island, which was right next to Liberty Island. The island served as a major munitions depot, and that night had a barge with 50 tons of TNT, plus railroad cars carrying over a thousand tons of ammunition.
Just after 2:00 a.m., an explosion that measured 5.5 on the Richter Scale went off. The shockwave shattered windows up to 25 miles away. Smaller explosions continued for hours sending bullets and shrapnel flying. The explosion obliterated the original Black Tom island, and the flying shrapnel damaged Lady Liberty’s arm and torch so badly that the platform was closed down. It’s still closed off to the public till date.
4. Part of Base Jumping History
It’s common knowledge that wherever there is a tall structure, you will find someone plotting to do a base jump off it. And Lady Liberty is no different. Space-hopping daredevil, Felix Baumgartner, jumped off the observation platform in 2007. But before him, an Australian stuntman had parachuted off the statue in 1986.
But even before him, Frederick Law made the first recorded BASE jump off the statue in 1912!
3. Defiant Icon of Freedom
The greenish-blue color of the Statue, replicated in glow-in-the-dark souvenirs around the world, is as a result of two decades of exposure to the elements. When she arrived in 1886, the statue was the color of a shiny new penny. But as the copper wore away, the green hue was left behind.
Aesthetics aside, Lady Liberty keeps a few secrets hidden from the public. When Bartholdi created the first models, Lady Liberty was holding broken chains to signify an end to slavery. But American financiers rejected the idea, so Bartholdi replaced the chains in her hands with a tablet.
However, he kept the broken chains that were at her feet, to symbolize freedom from oppression and servitude. But due to the height of the pedestal, visitors cannot see this final symbol of defiance.
2. Would you like to Buy the Statue?
Like all great landmarks, Lady Liberty has entertained her share of practical jokers. Serial conman George C. Parker, sold many great American landmark items. Manipulating peoples’ aggression and greed, Parker ‘sold’ The Brooklyn Bridge, Madison Square Gardens and The Statue of Liberty.
Another joker was David Copperfield who claimed to make the 300 ft. colossus disappear in front of a live audience in 1983. It was simply an illusion, using a rigged stage, curtains and lights.
Even Boston got in on the jokes. Before settling in New York, Lady Liberty had multiple options for relocation. When she was exhibited in Philadelphia in the 1876 World Fair, the fair goers were so receptive that Bartholdi considered giving them the statue. Good thing he didn’t, because Boston also made a play for the statue in 1882, New Yorkers were not having that. As the New York Times put it “…that great light-house statue will be smashed into … fragments before it shall be stuck up in Boston Harbor…”
1. Movie Prop Extraordinaire
No big-budget blockbuster movie seems complete without a gratuitous shot of a landmark getting destroyed. And the world’s most recognizable symbol, Lady Liberty, has run the full gamut of destruction in movies. In 1968’s Planet of the Apes, she was buried up to her neck in sand, she was drowned in 2001’s Artificial Intelligence, 1996’s Independence Day saw her lying on her face, in ruins as the alien ships hovered above.
The destruction of the Staute is a recurring element symbolising the destruction of the American way of democracy and liberty. It’s meant to stir powerful feelings in the viewer, and it works. Don’t you feel some type of rage at the baddie who wants to destroy the American way, when they destroy the symbol of hope and freedom?
I know I was gutted watching Nuclear Man rip the Statue of Liberty off her pedestal and hurls her towards Metropolis in Superman IV.
As the Statue turns 129 on US soil, we salute all it stands for: freedom from oppression, enlightenment and democracy.