“Liberty Enlightening the World” stands in New York harbor. Of course, we know her by her more common name, the Statue of Liberty. She is the symbol most associated with U.S. immigration. She faces outward, so that waves of immigrants saw her welcoming them as their ships sailed into port. The Statue of Liberty was a gift from France, and she has some interesting history.

Édouard de Laboulaye is known as the “Father of the Statue of Liberty.” He was born in Paris in 1811. He was a prominent law professor and political thinker of his age. He was also an abolitionist. He supported the 13th Amendment which abolished slavery in the U.S. After the end of the Civil War, he proposed a joint project between France and the U.S. to honor the ideals of freedom and democracy. One of the architects of the Statue of Liberty was Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, who a few years later would also design the Eiffel Tower.

The statue was sculpted by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi. She is made of a copper skin that is 3/32-inch thick, or about the thickness of two pennies. Her construction took about 200,000 pounds of copper and is supported by an interior iron framework. She is about the height of a 22-story building and was the tallest structure in New York when she was unveiled in 1886. At her unveiling, New York had its first ticker-tape parade.

Symbolism is evident throughout the statue. Her raised torch represents enlightenment. In her hand is a tablet inscribed with the date, in Roman numerals, of the Declaration of Independence. She strides over a broken shackle and chain signifying throwing off servitude and oppression. The shackle and chains are rarely represented in photos, as they only show up well from an aerial view. In later years, the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty made a smaller version which was placed outside a museum in Paris.

France paid for the statue and the U.S. paid for the pedestal upon which she would stand. The statue cost $250,000 and much of those funds were raised from everyday French citizens. The pedestal was paid for the same way, with a significant part raised by Joseph Pulitzer, who in his major newspaper, The New York World, urged people to donate. He raised $100,000 in six months. (Today, his name is most recognized in connection with the Pulitzer Prize, which is based on funds he endowed to Columbia University.)

The public is not allowed into the arm of the Statue of Liberty. This is because of explosions that happened near the statue, which is a bit of seemingly forgotten history despite it being a major event. On July 30, 1916, during World War I, German agents exploded 2 million pounds of munitions at the New York harbor. New York was the major hub for the assembly and shipping of the munitions industry. Several people were killed and hundreds were wounded. Glass was shattered in windows 6 miles away. The explosions registered 5.5 on the Richter scale, which is about 30 times more powerful than the collapse of the World Trade Center. The explosion was the most destructive terrorist attack in the U.S. up until Sept. 11, 2001. The explosions caused an estimated $20 million in damages (or the equivalent of $500 million in today’s dollars). Thirteen huge warehouses and six piers were destroyed. Flying debris hit the arm and torch of the Statue of Liberty, making it structurally unsound. At the time, the U.S. was officially neutral in the war but was selling arms to Britain, France and Russia. It took years for the U.S. to prove that it was German sabotage and hold them accountable for reparations. Hitler refused to pay, but Germany renegotiated a settlement in the early 1950s and made the last payment in 1979.

The statue has the following sonnet on its pedestal, written by the poet Emma Lazarus. Lazarus was born into a wealthy sugar refining family. She was of Portuguese Sephardic Jewish descent. Her charity work led her to interact with refugees. She wrote the poem as part of the fundraising efforts for the pedestal. People are familiar with the last few lines but not the whole poem:

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” 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-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Alice Gruber has been practicing U.S. immigration and naturalization law since 1995. Since 2007, she has practiced in Cooke County for a range of small to medium-sized corporate clients nationwide, quarter horse ranches in Texas and individuals. If you’d like to suggest a specific immigration topic for a future column, email alice@alicegruber.com.

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