January 10, 2011

A Day with Miss Liberty

In the 1870’s, the French raised 400,000 dollars’ worth of francs to ensure that Frederic-Auguste Barthodi’s idealized, neoclassical figure Liberty Enlightening the World would be built and given as a centennial gift to the United States.  When it was installed on Liberty Island, in New York harbor, the 225-ton, copper-skinned colossus was a shiny-and sound-as a new penny.  Standing for Freedom and Opportunity took its toll: the Statue of Liberty aged and deteriorated for almost a century before the decision was made to restore her, at a cost of 40 million 1980’s dollars.  It took almost four years to complete the task. 
The statue wore a shroud, some three hundred tons of latticework steel scaffolding encased her from her rotting toes to the top of the stained, outstretched arm.  The impression was of a giantess who had been stalked and captured for observation.  It was a French-American collaborative effort.  Although I have been told, that “we (Americans) were doing ninety percent of the work, the French got all the publicity.”  The apportionment  of work was such a delicate issue that when Liberty’s seven spikes had to be removed, the task was turned into a carefully balanced, fifty-fifty Franco-American effort, ensuring that both crews would share this bit of glamour deconstruction.
Usually, however, the Americans performed much less conspicuous tasks.  Early every morning they donned face and protective clothing against the rotting asbestos and lead dust, climbed into Liberty, and removed some of the seventeen hundred puddled-iron armature bars that attached Bartholdi’s copper skin to Gustav Eiffel’s steel skeleton.  Slowly, they removed a mere dozen a day, measured them, and duplicated them in stainless steel; the new ones were annealed and precisely substituted the following morning.  Like Eiffel’s, their work would only be noticed if they failed.
But the French!  Their work was seen for miles.  Beating thin copper sheets into a steel and concrete mold-a method called repouss√©-they reconstructed, from scratch, Liberty’s torch, and flame. 
One person among those assembled, who was not altogether pleased to be in the middle of all this restoration was the superintendent of the Statue of Liberty National Park, Dave Moffit.  He worked and lived on Ellis Island.  During reconstruction he observed, that it was like living in a nuclear holocaust, he particularly missed his afternoon naps.
Mr. Moffit returned to his afternoon naps; Miss Liberty’s restoration was completed and she emerged all shiny new for her centennial on July 4, 1986.  May she reign forever, that saucy French vixen.