On This Day

Bedloe’s Island, Bedlow’s Island, statute of liberty
Associated Press

On This Day: Statue of Liberty Dedicated in New York Harbor

October 28, 2011 06:00 AM
by Anne Szustek
On Oct. 28, 1886, the Statue of Liberty, a gift to the United States from the people of France, was officially unveiled to the public by President Grover Cleveland.

Huddled Masses Gather Before Statue of Liberty

Laborers fought off the bluster of mid-autumn to secure the last rivet on “Liberty Enlightening the World,” a sculpture designed by French artist Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi that arrived in New York 16 months earlier in 214 packing cases. Following the reassembly of its copper sheets, the statue of a crowned, robed woman holding a torch with her raised right arm stood at 151 feet.

Crowds and well-wishers swarmed upon New York in anticipation of the statue’s dedication ceremony. “Extra heavily loaded trains, much behind schedule time, were the rule on every railroad entering the city,” The New York Times wrote. “Every hotel was crowded to its utmost capacity last night, and there was hardly one of the better known hotels which did not have to turn away hundreds of would be guests.”

A red barge decorated with the phrase “Eat, Drink and be Merry” stood docked at Bedloe’s Island waiting to transport visitors willing to brave the heavy mist and winds to see the cadre of dignitaries give the statue, jointly funded by France and America, its proper dedication.
President Grover Cleveland presided over the festivities, which included a speech from Count Ferdinand de Lesseps, a gun salvo, music and a benediction. Bartholdi, perched in the statue’s torch, yanked a rope that pulled away the French flag, revealing the face of Lady Liberty. 

President Cleveland then formally dedicated the statue, saying, “We will not forget that Liberty has here made her home; nor shall her chosen altar be neglected.”

Lady Liberty’s torch was lit for the first time that evening.

Background: Constructing the Statue of Liberty

The diplomatic relationship between France and the United States dates back to the era of the American Revolution, when French soldiers fought along American colonists. In 1865, French historian Edouard de Laboulaye proposed the idea of a statue that would commemorate the two nations’ friendship. He founded the Franco-American Union for fundraising purposes.

The statue was designed by Bartholdi and the steel supports were engineered by Eugene-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc and Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, the same mind behind his namesake Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Stateside, in a bid to shore up cash for the statue, newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer published shaming editorials in his paper The World, scathing the rich for not donating to the project and the middle class for relying on the rich to shell out cash. His tactic proved successful, and financing for the pedestal was secured in August 1885.

The statue itself was assembled in France and completed in July 1884, and arrived in New York in pieces aboard the French ship Isere in June 1885. It was then constructed on Bedloe’s Island, renamed Liberty Island in 1956.

The statue’s pedestal bears an inscription of a poem by American writer Emma Lazarus entitled “The New Colossus,” the verses of which are as follows:

“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-tost to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

The words foretold the great wave of immigrants that were to file through adjacent Ellis Island, which opened as the United States’ main gateway for newcomers in 1892.

The Statue of Liberty Today

The Statue of Liberty was declared a U.S. National Monument in 1924 and came under the administration of the National Parks Service in 1933. In 1937, that commission was charged with the oversight of the entire island.

In 1984 President Ronald Reagan appointed Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca to helm financing for restoration efforts. On July 5, 1986, the refurbished statue was showcased during celebrations of Lady Liberty’s 100th birthday.

The Statue of Liberty was closed to visitors after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The island was reopened to the public after 100 days; however, the statue itself remained closed until Aug. 3, 2004. It will be closed for about a year after Oct. 28, 2011, for renovation.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines