History & Culture

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The USA and France have not always had the friendliest of relations, but we do have France to thank for the idea of the Statue of Liberty as well as its construction. In fact, the statue was a gift from the people of France. One man, Edouard de Laboulaye, had the idea. He was very opposed to slavery, and he was a huge supporter of President Abraham Lincoln. When the Civil War ended and the 13th amendment to the US Constitution was passed that abolished slavery, Laboulaye thought the best way commemorate these important acts of freedom and democracy would be a significant monument with a liberty theme.

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It wasn’t until he met a willing sculptor by the name of Auguste Bartholdi that the idea started to really take shape and gain support from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Bartholdi discovered he had a passion for designing large monuments, but his first attempt to secure a commission, for a lighthouse statue in Egypt, did not receive support. He was more than happy to find out about Laboulaye’s idea and worked hard to make it happen.

Meanwhile, a lot of money had to be raised and both countries were having trouble coming up with the funds. France was to handle the statue while the US was to handle the pedestal. They both eventually met their goals, but it took longer than they thought it would. Remember that Laboulaye first had his idea back in 1865, and it wasn’t until 1886 that the statue was finally completed finished, installed and dedicated. That’s 21 years of trying to make it happen.

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Bartholdi came to the United States a number of times to work on his ideas and help solidify the support needed to pull the whole project off. On one of his trips, he saw Bedloe’s Island as he was coming into New York by ship and just knew that was the right location for Lady Liberty. Pieces of the statue were put on display in both countries as they were finished in order to help with fundraising. In the US, it was newspaper man Joseph Pulitzer who put an appeal out to the masses through his paper that resulted in what might be called the first micro-donation campaign that raised more than $100,000 needed to finish the Pedestal, with donations that were mostly a dollar or less. The poem, a sonnet written by Emma Lazarus (with the famous “give me your tired, your poor…” lines) was also a part of the fundraising effort.

The Liberty Island Museum is housed in the lobby of the Pedestal building. Its exhibits chronicle the incredible 21-year journey of Lady Liberty from an idea of Edouard de Laboulaye to the gargantuan yet elegant copper statue designed by French sculptor Auguste Bartholdi.

Closely related to the Statue of Liberty, and located just a short, 1-mile ferry ride from Liberty Island is Ellis Island and its Immigration Museum. If you’re going to go to one, you owe it to yourself to go to both. 12 million people came through Ellis Island hoping for a better life in America. However, as of this writing in 2014, Ellis Island is still closed because of the effects of Superstorm Sandy.

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