Despite Low Funds, Statue of Liberty Cornerstone Is Laid
With a ceremony marked by speeches and prayers, a 21-gun salute, plenty of patriotic music, and a strong Masonic influence, the cornerstone for the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island (then called Bedloe’s Island) in New York Harbor was laid on Aug. 5, 1884. The statue, a gift from France, was a celebration of freedom and liberty between two nations, both leading republics, who had shared close ties ever since France’s support helped America win independence from Great Britain in the Revolutionary War. Despite the grand cornerstone ceremony, however, the future of the statue was in some doubt in the summer of 1884—Americans had not come up with their share of the cost.
In France, fundraising for the proposed statue of “Liberty Enlightening the World” was a popular cause supported by towns, cities, dignitaries and citizens throughout the country. France paid for the statue and the cost of transporting it to America after it was built. The deal was that the U.S. would donate the land and pay for the pedestal. The land was no problem, since Bedloe’s Island was federal property housing only an abandoned fort. The fundraising, however, was troublesome.
America experienced financial difficulties throughout the 1870s and money was too tight for a grand public monument. Additionally, some Americans resented the fact that France offered a “gift” but insisted that Americans pay a significant portion of it. About $250,000 was needed for the granite pedestal, but at the time the cornerstone was laid in 1884 less than half that amount had been raised.
To the rescue came newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, who began a fundraising campaign and promised to print in his newspaper the name of every single donor, no matter how small the donation. Over 120,000 Americans responded, raising more than $100,000, and the pedestal was eventually completed. In June 1885 the statue, transported in crates, arrived on board a French ship, and work began erecting the statue on top of the pedestal after it was completed in April 1886. President Grover Cleveland presided over the official dedication ceremony on Oct. 28, 1886.
The following newspaper article describes the cornerstone ceremony, as well as the fervor for the statue in France, American reaction, and the incredible artistic and architectural achievements that made the statue a reality. It was published by the New York Herald (New York, New York) on Aug. 5, 1884:
Preparing to Lay the Foundation Stone of the Statue
Bartholdi’s Life Dream
Events Which Marked the Progress of the Great Work
Many Difficulties Overcome
Making the Models—Collecting the Fund—Laying the Groundwork
French Amity for America
At last the erection of the great statue of “Liberty Enlightening the World” seems about to be undertaken in earnest. The cornerstone of the pedestal is to be laid today with appropriate ceremonies. Following is the official programme of the exercises, which will take place this afternoon at two o’clock on Bedloe’s Island:
2. Music by the United States Depot Band—“Marseillaise,” “Hail Columbia.”
3. Ceremonies of laying the cornerstone by the Grand Lodge of the State of New York, M. W. William A. Brodie, Grand Master; Masonic address by R. W. Frank B. Lawrence, Deputy Grand Master.
4. Masonic music—“Old Hundred.”
5. Salute of twenty-one guns from the battery of Old Fort Wood.
6. Discourse by M. Albert Lefaivre, Minister Plenipotentiary, in charge of the Consulate of France in New York, who has been specially designated for this ceremony.
7. Oration by William Allen Butler.
8. Music by the band—“Star Spangled Banner.”
9. Benediction by the Right Rev. H. C. Potter, D.D., Assistant Bishop of New York.
Bedloe’s Island, with the exception of the interior of the fort, which has been reserved for invited guests, will be open to the public from nine o’clock A.M. until half-past five o’clock P.M.
Boats will start from the Staten Island ferry landing, foot of Whitehall street, taking passengers to Bedloe’s Island, at 9, 9:40, 10:20 and 11 A.M., 12 M., 12:30 and 1 P.M.
Returning, the boats will leave Bedloe’s Island for New York at 12 M., 3:10, 3:50, 4:30 and 5:10 P.M.
A special boat will convey guests provided with platform tickets. This boat will start from the government Barge Office.
The headquarters of the Executive Committee will be for the day at No. 1 Broadway, in the large room on the first floor, which will be open for the reception of invited guests from ten o’clock A.M. to one o’clock P.M. At the door will be a display of French and American flags.
An International Work
France and America join in the completion of the work, and the two great republican nations of the world rejoice in its near accomplishment. The beautiful symbolism of the figure cannot fail to strike every observer. While the colossal Germania, on the banks of the Rhine, stands for State despotism and race differences, the statue of Liberty will light the path of freedom for all the nations of the world. It is frequently urged that ideal distinctions of this nature are of but slight importance compared with the more material advantages of commerce and utilitarian progress. But it is often forgotten that these advantages have followed only after the establishment of some great ideal. Where would be our boasted civilization at this day if it were not for the struggles of our forefathers in which they sacrificed their lives for an idea? Their burning patriotism and noble endurance built up the nation’s greatness, and today, repeated in lessons of type by a free press and by free schools throughout the land instructing rising generations, they form the bedrock of our nation’s safety. It is impossible, then, to overestimate the generous gift of France. The torch of Liberty will cast its illuminations far beyond the horizon of our cities, and peoples yet unborn will feel its peaceful influence.
A Sculptor’s Ideal
But this result has not been attained without long years of toil and struggle—toil both on the part of the able sculptor who has made the work his life dream and on the part of the hundreds who have aided it with pen and tongue. About thirteen years have passed since the first conception of the idea, and at least one year more must pass before the statue will be raising aloft its torch of light on Bedloe’s Island. It was in the summer of 1871 that a young Alsatian sculptor first visited this country, coming directly to New York. As he entered this harbor his artistic eye was enchanted by the natural beauties of the scene and his mental vision pictured to him the grandeur of the nation’s gateway through which so many millions yearly passed to seek homes and fortunes untrammeled by foreign oppression. Then there dawned upon him the first conception of his great work. A souvenir of ancient Rhodes, with her colossus guarding the commerce of the East, must have occurred to his mind. Why not on the threshold of the New World erect a colossus which should typify, not sordid ideas of gain, but the political greatness of the modern Republic? There, on a little grassy island, facing the incoming ships of all nations, such a statue would find appropriate foothold. It was a gigantic idea, but its full birth in the sculptor’s mind was only a question of a few weeks.
The Franco-American Union
For two years more the work was merely inchoate. At first the plan was confided to a few artistic friends, who approved. Then it was broached to a larger circle of acquaintances, who doubted. Finally, eminent public men began to take an interest. The “Bartholdi craze” was inaugurated and the practical work began. The approaching celebration of the centennial of American independence aroused great interest in France, where the popular heart always beats with friendship for America. There were the patriotic memories of the past to arouse enthusiasm and the stimulating influence of the International Exhibition to attract curiosity. During the summer of 1873 a society was formed to take part in the great commemoration. It was called the Union Franco-Americaine de France, and its members determined to present to the United States some testimonial of its sympathy in the great event. M. Bartholdi had already designed his statue representing the figure of Liberty with a coronet of starry rays and holding in her uplifted hand a torch. The pose was simple and majestic. The gesture of the outstretched arm was full of spirit. The left arm, holding the tablet, formed with the head a beautiful balance to the figure. The artists of France were enthusiastic. The design was proposed to the society and was at once accepted.
Inaugurating the Work
At a banquet held in Paris on the night of November 6, 1875, inaugurating the project eloquent speeches were made by several of the most distinguished citizens of France, recalling the ancient alliance of the French and American people and the grand results which have made it so memorable for modern civilization. M. Edouard Laboulaye, whose pen has been so often employed in the service of liberty and progress, was chosen president, and among the numbers enrolled were found the names of Oscar de Lafayette, the Marquis de Nosilles, the Marquis de Rochambeau, the Count de Tocqueville, M. Cornelius de Witt, M. Henri Martin, M. Paul de Remusat and others whose ancestors participated in the momentous struggles of our Revolution or who have since proved themselves the earnest admirers and the steadfast friends of our country and her institutions. In their first appeal to the French nation these gentlemen said:
“Our design is, in remembrance of a glorious anniversary, to raise an unequalled monument. We propose to erect in the middle of the fine harbor of New York, on an island belonging to the States of the Union, opposite Long Island, where some of the earliest battles of Independence were fought, a gigantic statue, whose frame on the horizon shall be the great cities of New York, Brooklyn and Jersey City. There, on the threshold of the continent so full of new life, where vessels from all parts of the world are constantly passing, it will rise from the bosom of the waves and represent “Liberty Enlightening the World!”
This appeal was generously responded to in France. The Paris municipality voted $2,000 to the work. Small local bazaars were started all over the country to raise funds and concerts and dinners innumerable were given. At one time it became the butt of the French wits, and there seemed to be a danger that “Liberty” was going to be no more than the biggest joke of the day. But in spite of all obstacles sufficient funds were collected within five years to complete the statue. A great banquet was given upon this occasion at the Continental Hotel, in Paris, by the Franco-American Union. M. Edouard Laboulaye presided and delivered the speech of the evening in response to the toast, “The Eternal Friendship of the Two Republics.” An address to the people of the United States was engrossed on parchment and presented to all the French participants in the banquet for signature. It declared: “The statue will be erected by our friends in the United States on a monumental pedestal on Bedloe’s Island, in the splendid harbor of New York. It shows that the two nations are as united now in this fraternal work as they were a hundred years ago in founding independence. Thus will the glorious memory of the friendship of the two nations—a friendship sealed with the blood of their fathers—be consecrated in imperishable bronze.” The French manifestation was endorsed by 181 towns, represented by the votes of municipal councilors, forty conseils generaux, ten chambers of commerce of the most important towns and 100,000 subscribers. The cost of the work was about $250,000, and was raised mostly in small sums from nearly all parts of France.
The First Spike
Minister Morton drove the first spike on October 24, 1881, riveting the first of the bolts which were to join the statue to the pedestal. Only the right arm, head and shoulder were at that time ready, but all the plaster casts were made and steady work was being done with the bronze. The hand and wrist holding the torch had already arrived in America in time to be exhibited at the Centennial Exhibition, and were afterward temporarily placed in Madison square.
The New York Committee
The citizens of New York promptly responded to the movement in Paris, and at a meeting held in the Century Club on January 2, 1877, they appointed a committee to present the great undertaking to the citizens of the whole country, to procure the necessary legislation as to the reception and inauguration of the statue, and to take means for raising the funds that might be requisite. Mr. William M. Evarts was chosen chairman. As its first step this committee laid the matter before Congress and obtained the passage of a resolution providing for the erection of the statue on Bedloe’s Island, and for its future care and maintenance. Its formal reception by the President on behalf of the government was also secured, and President Grant wrote an autograph letter of thanks for the gift. An address to the American people written by Mr. John Bigelow was presented at a meeting of the committee, held at the Union League Club House, and received their endorsement. The collection of funds, however, was slow work. The estimated cost of the pedestal was $250,000. The French, Swiss and Belgian societies of New York city collected $800. Mr. S. D. Babcock promised to contribute one per cent of the entire cost of the pedestal. By the 1st of January, 1883, $70,000 had been raised, which has since been increased to $110,000, most of which has been already exhausted in building the foundation.
Making the Statue
While the funds were being collected M. Bartholdi was steadily at work on the statue. The question of material had been easily decided. Bronze had been selected on account of its malleability and its power of resisting the elements. The metal was not cast, but repousse, or hammered into shape. The method by which this was accomplished is exceedingly interesting. First there was a rough model moulded in clay for popular approval. Then a plaster cast was made one-sixteenth of the size of the statue. From this, another model, one-fourth the real size, was constructed. All the measurements and creases in the drapery had to be carefully gone over. After this model had been completed another full sized one was made from it, being constructed in sections. In the immense workshops different parts of the floor were marked off for the various sections, and wooden supports built for them. Then a skeleton of laths was made for each piece. The sections into which the quarter-sized model had been divided were carefully copied by skilled workmen, every measurement being four times as large. Upon the wooden framework plaster was first roughly spread, and then smoothed down exactly in accordance with the markings on the model. The detailed character of the work may be imagined from the fact that upon each of the nine sections of the model there were 300 measurements, besides 1,200 small marks which had to be copied in order to keep up the exact proportion. After all this had been accomplished, wooden moulds, exact copies of the plaster, had to be made by hand. Every projection or depression of the drapery or figure had to be exactly fitted to the wooden mould. Then the sheets were placed in the moulds and hammered into shape, all the hammering being done from the back or inside of the sheets. They varied greatly in size, according to their position in the figure, the majority of them being from one to three yards square. In all there are 300 of these hammered plates, weighing eighty-eight tons. Besides this work on the outside of the statue, there had to be constructed an immense skeleton of iron and steel beams, to which the bronze shell could be firmly riveted.
The modeling is broad and massive, and, where necessary, exquisitely fine. There are parts of the drapery that have the delicacy of work on a statuette. This is enhanced by a wholly accidental effect—the way in which the metal is wrought by the hammer gives the whole surface of it a kind of mottle, which breaks up the light precisely as the light is broken up on silk. The huge robe has thus a perfect texture, and one forgets that its folds are in stubborn bronze. This applies more especially to the drapery of the lower part of the figure just where the dress sweeps the ground. Beyond rises the mantle, or outer covering, in great majestic folds, treated with a perfect eye for the handling of masses in drapery. Above this again there is more work of extreme delicacy, and the sleeve of the right arm would be a thing for any sculptor in the world to be proud of, and it is almost as great a credit to the artisan. How so much freedom of effect has been preserved through all the processes one can hardly understand. But all this beauty could be destroyed were it not that proper precautions have been taken to prevent the attacks of the weather. The mere expansion by the heat of day, or the blaze of the summer sun would pull the statue to pieces in a very short time, if each of the plates had not been so arranged as to move slightly on the rivets which join it to the iron skeleton. The plates had to be thin enough to bend slightly, under changes of temperature, so as to preserve their proper shape both winter and summer. But copper and iron are dangerous metals to place in contact; an electrical current might easily be generated which would cause the copper coating to slowly vanish. Every joint and every rivet of the structure had to be isolated. General Stone, who since his return from Egypt has conducted the scientific part of the preparations, believes that he has succeeded in obviating any dangers from an electric current.
The Statue in Paris
In Paris the whole statue has been set up for the inspection of visitors. The right hand and torch were returned to France about two years ago. The head, which was one of the parts first made, was on exhibition in Paris for some years, and has now been placed in position. The unsuspecting traveler following the Rue de Vigny in the direction of the Boulevard de Courcelles, finds himself suddenly confronted with a portentously big figure in bronze, rearing its head far away above the six-story houses. The entry is by the sole of the uplifted foot—a fairly spacious doorway. It is rather dark inside, but the gloom is pierced by thousands of little eyelets of light marking the holes left for the rivets. The head is reached at present by a temporary wooden staircase. In this city there will be an elevator working in the great square framework of iron, which is to form the main support for the structure. The stairs in the arm have been completed, and from the gallery of the torch all the glory of Paris bursts on the view—miles and miles of house roofs, all as even as if they had been mown like grass with the scythe, and rising out of them, sharp and clear, the Pantheon, the Invalides, St. Clothilde, St. Sulpice, Notre Dame, L’Etoile and the Trocadero towers; then still further beyond, to bound the view, blue sky and the light cirrus clouds that in the distance seem to be distinctly lower than the spectator’s standpoint.
Reckoning from the coronet to what might be called the footstool, the figure measures 101 feet 11¾ inches, and to the extremity of the torch 138 feet. The pedestal of granite on which it will stand is to be 82 feet high, giving a total of 220 feet as the height of the work. The head is 14 feet high and forty persons can stand within it. The circumference of the thumb measures 12 feet. The forefinger is 8 feet long and 4 feet in circumference at the second joint. The balcony around the edge of the torch will hold fifteen persons. An electric light will be placed in the torch and points of electric light will encircle the coronet. The foundation, when completed, will be 52 feet high, and the top of the torch will be elevated 309 feet above mean tide level.
Thus it will be seen that the Statue of Liberty is the tallest in the world. The monument at London, the next loftiest isolated column, is but 202 feet high…
Within the walls of the old fort on Bedloe’s Island was an open space for a parade ground. It was decided that the pedestal should be built here, and extensive excavations were necessary to secure a firm foundation for the immense weight of the statue. General Charles P. Stone, formerly of the United States Army, was appointed engineer-in-chief of the undertaking, and Mr. Richard M. Hunt architect-in-chief. Work was begun about eleven months ago, and the foundation is now completed. An excavation ninety feet square was first made, reaching down to the solid ground underneath the fort. Wet concrete was used for the base. It was composed of a mixture of broken trap rock, American cement and water. The trap rock was broken near Weehawken, and brought to the island from the Palisades. When this mixture is laid it hardens and becomes like one solid stone. About two hundred cubic yards were placed each day, and layer after layer was laid until the excavation was filled up. The stone thus made is the biggest artificial one in the world. It is 91 feet square at the base, 67 feet square at the top and 52 feet 10 inches high. The workmen, about one hundred in number, were quartered on the island. For carrying the material a trestle of heavy timber was erected capable of sustaining a weight of 15 tons, or more if necessary. Steam elevators were used to hasten the unloading and placing of the concrete. The concrete base, together with the masonry, will weigh about 48,000 tons, exclusive of the weight of the statue, which is 180 tons. In order to obviate any danger from lightning, there are five iron tables, three inches in diameter, running through the entire foundation and pedestal into the earth, a copper wire in the middle acting as a conductor.
A tunnel about 7 feet high by 10 feet wide runs clear through the foundation, and another similar one runs at right angles to it. Where the two intersect a shaft 10 feet square runs to the top of the foundation. About 20,000 barrels of cement were used in the construction of the base. It will keep growing harder for a year to come, and will bear a weight of 100 tons to the square foot, while it only has to sustain about five. The foundation has the color and appearance of gray sandstone of rather coarse grain. It rises about 37 feet above the floor of the fort—being sunk 15 feet below it—and the upper platform is between 63 and 70 feet above water line. The building of the pedestal will be begun under the direction of Mr. D. H. King, Jr. Leetes Island (Conn.) granite has been chosen for the facing; the interior will be of fine concrete. The granite is purple in color, and is said to be a stone of great beauty and endurance. About $20,000 of the amount collected is still in hand, which will enable Mr. King to build three or four courses of masonry before he will be compelled to stop.