Not Just Another Pretty Face

Liberty Enlightening the World

As a regular reader of this publication hopefully you have enjoyed the many articles in our lighthouse series. The series focused on discussing the navigational necessity and historical relevance of many Long Island lighthouses. When I think of the gateway to Long Island, I see an image of Manhattan and the many bridges and tunnels that bring so many lucky folks out to the East End for a seasonal retreat or a weekend getaway.

When I think of Manhattan I think of the Harbor. And of course when I think of the Harbor, one image stands out more than all others. The gateway to America. The Statue of Liberty, or Liberty Enlightening the World; which is this copper-clad lady’s official title. Now, you might be asking yourself, why I began this journey with a mention of lighthouses. Lady Liberty has more in common with our area beacons than you might have known.

The idea came about at a dinner party near Versailles, France in 1865. Ten short years later, a sculptor by the name of Frederic Auguste Bartholdi and a structural engineer by the name of Gustav Eiffel began construction. It was completed and presented to America by the people of France on July 4, 1884. The American community in Paris presented a gift of a replica of the monument to the French and this 35-foot scaled down version of the lady still stands on Ile Des Cygnes on the Seine River. The original statue was then shipped by the French frigate Isere, and was finally assembled on its pedestal by 1886. It was officially accepted by President Grover Cleveland, who interestingly enough, vetoed funding for the pedestal, the largest 19th century concrete structure in the United States, only two years prior.

The total weight of the statue is 450,000 pound or 225 tons. She towers at more than 300 feet, and in high winds can sway three to five inches. There are many theories as to what her various attributes represent, I am presenting the most common belief. There are seven spikes in her crown to represent the seven mountains or as we would say now, continents. The 25 windows that adorn her headpiece represent the natural minerals or gemstones of the Earth. Her toga is believed to pay homage to the ancient Republic of Rome and the Ancient Goddess of Freedom, Libertas. The chains beneath her feet are said to show Liberty crushing the chains of slavery and tyranny. The torch of course, stands for enlightenment.

There was a time when that torch served another purpose. It is a little known fact, or perhaps just a forgotten one, that Lady Liberty was the first and arguably the grandest lighthouse in New York Harbor at the mouth of the Hudson River. It was a beacon not only for freedom but of safety for seafaring captains and vessels from afar. Its crucial placement helped warn many mariners of the dangerous shoals on the western side of the Harbor.

Upon his offical acceptance, President Cleveland delegated the U.S. Lighthouse Board as caretakers of Lady Liberty. The first keeper, Alfred E. Littlefield, was appointed shortly after Christmas in 1886.

The light was not a typical Fresnel lens that usually accompanied a beacon. James. J. Wood of the American Electric Manufacturing Company had come up with a system of using arc lights powered by dynamo (a type of generator). This system, for all of its flaws was the method used to keep the torch lit as a navigational aid. Unfortunately, the cost of keeping this lady lit ran about $10,000 a year, which came directly from the Lighthouse Board budget. No additional funding was granted from Congress. This was one of the reasons the Lighthouse Board happily handed the reins over to the War Department in 1901, subsequently the Liberty Lighthouse was decommissioned as an aid to navigation on March 1, 1902.

You see, Lady Liberty is not just a pretty face, she was and still is a hard working woman, who proudly stands with a stern but welcoming gaze to all that enter her Harbor, her City, and her Country.

“…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.”

“The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus

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