Liberty's Torch: The Great Adventure to Build the Statue of Liberty
She is Lady Liberty, an American icon recognized by all as part of our nation’s history, yet she is shrouded in mystery and intrigue. Despite having been destroyed in countless movies by aliens and assorted villains, she remains at her post in New York Harbor rising majestically above the entrance to the port of New York and standing as a symbol to millions of immigrants. In the second half of the 19th century, more than nine million immigrants came to the United States; for many, the Statue of Liberty was their first glimpse of their new homeland.
"...an entertaining and informative history of the building of Miss Liberty.... LIBERTY’S TORCH is loaded with incredible stories of the Statue."
As America celebrates her 238th birthday, LIBERTY’S TORCH by Elizabeth Mitchell is an entertaining and informative history of the building of Miss Liberty. American school children grow up believing that the Statue of Liberty was a gift from a grateful French nation to celebrate America’s 100th birthday in 1876. In reality, it was not the French nation that decided upon a gift, it was one man --- Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, a French sculptor who envisaged, designed, financed and constructed the Statue.
Initially it had nothing to do with the Centennial, but had everything to do with Bartholdi being spurned by a different suitor. Bartholdi was involved in the building of the Suez Canal. He proposed to the leader of the Egyptian government that he construct a statue of a woman wearing a crown and holding a torch at the mouth of the canal. When the Egyptians said no, Bartholdi took his idea across the Atlantic.
Arriving in America in 1871, Bartholdi had a new idea. He proposed that France and America jointly erect a monument to American independence and suggested sites all over New York. Somehow he landed upon Liberty Island as the appropriate location. Returning to France, he touted the idea of the Statue, but it was never a gift from the French people. Bartholdi raised the money from private donors, and the two nations split the cost of the project --- France paying for the statue, America for the pedestal on which it stands, and the federal government supplying what was then known as Bedloe’s Island.
Bartholdi’s construction of the Statue was piecemeal and actually was designed to encourage obtaining additional financing for the project. The torch was exhibited in 1876 at the World’s Fair in Philadelphia. Admission was charged to allow fairgoers to enter the torch and walk to its top. From those funds, as well as additional donations, enough money flowed to the project to move on to the construction of the head of Miss Liberty.
LIBERTY’S TORCH is loaded with incredible stories of the Statue. The cast of characters includes President Grant, Thomas Edison, Joseph Pulitzer and Gustave Eiffel. The historical “what-ifs” and “might-have-beens” comprise a long list of anecdotes that might make you think of the Statue of Liberty in a far different light. But she remains a symbol of liberty for America and the world, and a little truth about her unique past can only make her a more interesting character.
Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on July 11, 2014