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Liberty in New York Harbour

CHATTERBOX (1904).
DANGER SIGNALS.
‘LIBERTY’ IN NEW YORK HARBOUR.

ON July 4th, 1884, M. Jules Ferry, the celebrated French minister, had to perform a little ceremony.A stranger had arrived in Paris a day or two before,and it became his duty to introduce this stranger to the American Ambassador. ‘Not very much trouble in that,’ you will say. But when you hear that the stranger was one hundred and fifty-one feet tall and weighed about four hundred and fifty thousand pounds, you will agree with me that a little more than the usual ceremony was necessary.

My country, sir,’ we can imagine M. Ferry saying, wishes to present to the people of America a small memento of the war in which we fought with them side by side, till victory crowned them with independence. This being the anniversary of the day on which the Charter of their Liberty was signed in this city of Paris, it has been chosen as a suitable occasion on which to beg your acceptance of the token of our sympathies and friendship.

The Ambassador expressed his gratitude and was forthwith introduced to the gigantic statue of Liberty. Whether he felt at all shy in such a presence, nobody has ever said, but it is surely quite enough to take any one’s breath away to see such a colossal figure suddenly for the first time. It was cast entirely in bronze, that looked like ruddy gold as the sun shone upon it. In each fold of the flowing robe there was room for half-a-dozen men to hide, and it made one feel quite giddy to look up and up and up to where Liberty’s clear-cut face, with the sunshine on it, was turned to the sky, while far above her head one arm was raised to bear a torch that all the world might see. It was quite a long walk around the hem of her skirt, for the sculptor, M Bartholdi, had taken advantage of the dress as a support for the whole figure. The wider the base,’ said he, the firmer it will stand.’

When railways and steamships were built, no designer thought it necessary to provide accommodation for such a traveler as this, so that M. Bartholdi was obliged to have his statue cast in separate pieces. It, therefore, consists of a great number of plates of bronze, no one of which plates is more than three thirty-seconds of an inch thick, not as thick as the walls of a doll’s house. Such thin metal as that would not stand against even a light wind; so M. Eiffel (who afterward erected the great Eiffel Tower) was asked to construct a skeleton for Liberty. This he did, and over his strong steel framework, the statue is built, being fastened to it in thousands and thousands of places.

Raving accepted the gift, the Ambassador wrote to the President in Washington, and arrangements were immediately set on foot for building a proper home for Liberty when she came. A subscription list was opened, and, sufficient money having been collected, the workmen were sent down to Bedlow Island in New York harbour, where a strong stone fort, made in the shape of a star, had been established nearly one hundred years before. In the centre of this star fort an opening was cut and a foundation was laid consisting of a block of concrete ninety feet square at the base, sixty-five feet square at the top, and fifty-three feet in height. Who could say, after hearing that, that Liberty has not a firm footing in America? From the summit of this block rises the true, pedestal. It is a stone tower with four sides and is prettily ornamented. The concrete base is surrounded by a terrace; a grassy slope, and flights of stone steps lead to the tower and the entrance to the interior of the statue.

But long before her home was ready, Liberty arrived. France had given her free passage in a number of war vessels; though a sea voyage cannot be half so enjoyable when you do not make it all in one piece. Fancy having your arms in one ship, your feet in another, and your head stowed away carefully under the deck of a third! Yet that is something like the way in which Liberty came to New York, and had to wait while they finished her island home.

Finally, however, this was done, and before October 27th, 1886, she was standing proudly on her pedestal, with her torch held in the sky three hundred and five feet above the harbour waters. Over her face, concealing it from view, hung the flags of America and France, for she had not yet been formally introduced to the American people. The best person to do this was the President, Mr. Cleveland. So he came up from Washington, and on October 29th, amid a flutter of flags, the roaring of cannon, the shouting of the people, and all the sounds of rejoicings that accompany such events, he pulled the cord that held the flags over Liberty’s face. Down they fluttered, like bright – winged birds, to settle at the feet of the beautiful statue, emblems of two nations’ love for Liberty and her rule.

Alas! that of so many who went to see, so few were gratified. For that day, in New York harbour, the weather was in a most unhappy mood. An obscuring fog settled on the water, while chilly rain did what it could to damp the scene. But, sulky as the weather might be, and roam as the fog might into the midst of every crowd, it did not get into the hearts of the people, and it certainly did not succeed in putting out the brilliant fireworks that illumined New York when the sun had set. The statue itself shone with a wondrous glow, for twenty electric lamps of six thousand candle-power each, with reflectors behind them, threw their light upon it.

Many who failed to see this new-comer on the day of her welcome have paid their respects since, and have been impressed by what they saw. It is quite a journey up the inside framework. The head is fourteen feet high and will hold forty people, while, on climbing up the arm and reaching the torch, space can be found for at least fifteen visitors. Here a most powerful group of electric lights is placed; some of their rays shoot skywards, some fall softly on the statue’s face. Far at sea this light is visible, and very pleasant surely it must be to voyagers when they first catch sight of Liberty’s lamp, thus held up on the doorstep of the New World, to guide them into safety.

JOHN LEA.

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