It was on June 17th, 1885, that 200,000 people went to the docks at New York to greet the French steamer Isère as it arrived with the Statue of Liberty. The statue was not in one piece. Having been put together in France, it was disassembled and put into crates for its transatlantic voyage.
The statue, made of copper sculpted by Frédéric Auguste Barthold clad onto an interior framework built by Gustave Eiffel, was a gift from the French people to those of the United States. Based on the Roman goddess of liberty, she holds a torch in her right hand and a tablet in her left hand, inscribed with the Roman numerals that represent July 4th, 1776, the date of America’s Declaration of Independence. At her feet is a broken shackle and chain to denote the recent abolition of slavery in the US.
Visitors can climb inside it via 2 spiral staircases leading to an observation deck in her crown. Lifts were installed during renovations. Access to the torch via a long, narrow ladder is now restricted to staff, but originally the public could ascend. There is a brass plate, originally mounted inside the pedestal, but now in the museum in the statue’s base, that contains the famous words of “The New Colossus,” a sonnet by Emma Lazarus.
"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!"
Generations of immigrants were inspired by the sight of Lady Liberty as they sailed into New York, though some might have felt misgivings at being described as “wretched refuse.” She has been a powerful symbol of freedom ever since she arrived there herself. She reminds us to keep aloft the light of liberty, and to value the constitutions that protect it.
Her fame is such that she has appeared in many movies. The torch was the location of the climax of director Alfred Hitchcock's 1942 movie “Saboteur.” The statue’s most famous appearance was in the 1968 picture “Planet of the Apes,” in which it was seen at the end, half-buried in the sand. It was toppled in the science-fiction film “Independence Day,” and in “Cloverfield” it was beheaded by the monster.
The Statue continues to inspire to this day, and sees troops of schoolchildren and tourists visiting her to learn about the value of liberty and the need to guard it. Some think democracy is an end in itself, but the statue reminds us that it is a means to an end, and that liberty is that end. The US is not a democracy, though democracy is embedded in its fabric. It is instead a Republic, one whose Constitution was designed to protect the liberty the statue represents.