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Justice for Lady Liberty

POSTED: March 28, 2012 4:00 a.m.

I was, shall we say, nearby when the statue of Lady Justice was placed on top of the new Dawson County Courthouse just prior to its opening. The operation to place her there went without drama.

That got me to thinking about the history of Lady Liberty, which is of course better known as the Statue of Liberty.

The trials and tribulations encountered erecting that Lady should give us pause on how current political events might influence the placement of such a grand monument today.

Note for example that Lady Liberty took 21 years to complete. The idea first blossomed in France, but quickly took a back seat to a war into which the designers got drafted.

On the U.S. side, then President Ulysses S. Grant promised to give the project New York's Bedloe Island as originally suggested by the Statue's designer Frederic Bartholdi, but only after a committee spent a year reviewing all the other possible alternatives.

Grant promised but never actually donated the island.

That happened under President Rutherford B. Hayes.

In France the design was the problem.

Constant discussion surrounded the look of the monument.

Money is not an issue. It was funded by the French government.

The styling followed aspects of Roman, French, American and British historic figures including that of Lady Justice.

When a Native American princess was suggested the Americans protested at having an Indian. Bartholdi used his own mother as inspiration for the face.

Back here raising money to build the foundation on Bedloe stalled as the depression of 1873 drug on.

The rich were cautious because of future uncertainty, while the poor struggled to survive.

There was resistance to the project because it was foreign, not American.

President Grover Cleveland came into office and promptly vetoed every bill putting money toward the Statue of Liberty.

Ironically, he was a Democratic vetoing Republican spending bills.

No federal money was ever allocated to the erection of the Statue.

Ultimately it was Joseph Pulitzer that started a fund raising drive that raised the money.

By publishing the names of each donor he raised $102,000 ($2.2 million today) from 120,000 people; 80 percent of which donated less than a dollar to the effort.

Pennies came from elementary school classes, nickels from children and dimes from lady's civic clubs.

Lady Liberty's home was bought by the poor not by the rich.

Meanwhile government arguments raged while the statue sat finished in France.

Who would oversee the statue and maintain it? Bedloe was a fort so it first went to the Department of War.

However it was also deemed a lighthouse because of its powerful torch so it finally was the Dept. of Lighthouses that got Lady Liberty.

Then that powerful torch had to be toned down - the Corps of Engineers deemed it too bright.

On Oct. 28, 1886, a massive opening celebration took place with a ticker tape parade and the movement of a grand flotilla out to the island.

President Cleveland led the show; the same man that vetoed every effort to build the park. Politicians gave aimless speeches well into the afternoon on an island packed with dignitaries. Only two women were invited - to open a statue of a woman declaring freedom for all.

Boat loads of Suffragists circled the island yelling at the men assembled on the island.

Not one of the 120,000 people that donated funds was invited.

That evening as rain forced postponement of a grand fireworks display, the torch was finally lit. Tamped down by the Corp it was labeled a glowworm by the press.

Thus Lady Liberty started.

Today it is the monument of freedom in this country and the world. It is the identity of the United States and not one child or adult in this country does not recognize it.

One wonders if today the idea of just such a grand monument to freedom were to surface, whether the politicians, the bureaucracy and the worries over the economy would make the story any different at all.

Charlie Auvermann is a longtime Dawson County resident and former editor of the Dawson Community News. He is also the executive director of the local development authority.

 

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