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Statue Of Liberty: 20 Things They Don't Tell Tourists (But We Will)

Whenever tourists come to NYC, one of the first things they want to do is go to the Statue of Liberty. Now, not everyone, but a lot of people get there, take a photo, and don't really try to find out more about this awesome landmark. Don't worry about that, we've got your back. We have scoured the records and went looking for tons of cool facts about Lady Liberty that most people don't actually know and that the tour guides don't always tell people, or they do, but people don't do the tours, so they never actually find out.

It's hard to imagine New York City without the Statue of Liberty. It's hard to imagine it any color other than green. It's also hard to imagine her bearing the torch of liberty anywhere but America. But in the late nineteenth century, when the conception and construction of the statue took place, all of these attributes of this iconic landmark almost didn't happen. Luckily they did, but this famous lady that has over 3 million people visit each year (CNN) has more than a few secrets hiding up her enormous sleeves.

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20 It is now the symbol of liberty and freedom in the US, but most people didn’t even want it

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The story of how the Statue of Liberty came to be has become a legend, and like most legends, it’s not entirely accurate. The typical story is that the government of France gifted the statue to the United States as a symbol of friendship. And that is part of it. The statue was the brainchild of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, who designed the statue with the help of Gustave Eiffel (yes, that Gustave Eiffel), who designed the inner structure. The agreement between the two countries was that France would finance the construction of the statue, while the United States would finance the base. According to Untapped Cities, there was a whole lot of grumbling about France not financing the whole gift, particularly with the financial panic of 1873. The base was financed primarily through donations, which ran out at least once and took several years to fully finance the project, but more on that later.

19 Lady Liberty may have the most famous face in the US, but no one is really sure who her face was modeled on

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The Statue of Liberty has a distinctive face: a large nose, a slightly protruding brow line, large lips, and a strong chin. She is supposed to represent Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom, but her features were supposedly modeled on a real-life person. According to Untapped Cities, the most commonly cited inspiration is designer Bartholdi’s mother Charlotte Beysser Bartholdi. Travel + Leisure also noted a rumor that the face was instead modeled after Bartholdi’s brother. French writer Nathalie Salmon, in her 2014 book "Lady Liberty I Love You," posited that her ancestor Sarah Salmon was the model. Smithsonian Magazine has also suggested that the original concept for the Statue of Liberty was a Muslim peasant woman for a potential statue in Egypt.

18 In 1982 it was discovered that Lady Liberty’s head was off-center—by 2 feet

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Replacing the torch was not the only repair that the Statue of Liberty underwent in 1985. She also got a facelift; or more accurately, a face shift. (Although, she did also have her nose patched up.) According to the New York Times, the upper portions of the statue suffered from structural problems since the statue’s initial construction. The cause was determined to be the head’s off-center placement and the placement of one of the arms. The arm was shifted and reinforced, while the head was shifted to the center, according to the New York Times.

17 The torch has been closed to visitors for over 100 years

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In its early days, the torch was open for visitors to climb into, but that changed forever in 1916. Nearby Black Tom Island, which housed large munitions stores, experienced a major disaster after some of those stores were detonated. The resulting blast was felt as far away as Philadelphia, according to the New York Daily News. It was originally considered an accident, but by the 1930s the blame was officially determined to belong to German spies. So what does this have to do with the torch, you ask? Flying debris hit the statue’s raised arm, loosening rivets, which prompted officials to close it to the public.

16 Freemasons were involved with the construction of the Statue of Liberty

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But not in the cloak-and-dagger conspiracy way that people would normally talk about the Freemasons. There aren’t National Treasure-like mysterious symbols hidden on Lady Liberty. But the Statue of Liberty does have a real-life connection to the Freemasons. According to the New York Times, many workers on the project, from French committee members, to locals fundraising for the pedestal, to even Bartholdi himself were Freemasons. The New York Times also suggests that the statue’s original name was inspired by the masonic principle of illumination and enlightenment. New York freemasons laid the cornerstone of the statue’s base in 1884, a ceremony that was presided over by the Grand Master of the New York State Lodge, according to the New York Times. The Freemason compass is also included on a plaque on the statue.

15 This gift from France was intended to celebrate Abraham Lincoln and emancipation

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Although the Statue of Liberty was finished in 1886, the whole process of the project was twenty years in the making. The original idea of memorializing Abraham Lincoln and emancipation belonged to French abolitionist Edouard de Laboulaye, who conceived of the idea in 1865, according to Vice. He recruited Bartholdi for the project, who returned to his design for a Colossus-like statue in Egypt. See? It all connects. By the time the project was completed, however, the sentiment behind the project had shifted to the friendship between the two nations and the centennial of the United States.

14 The statue was called “Liberty Enlightening the World” until 1924

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It doesn’t roll off the tongue, does it? But this was the title presented at the statue’s dedication. It is an improvement on the very long name proposed for its potential Egyptian sister. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge used the Antiquities Act to declare the statue a national monument. (Liberty Island as a whole was later included in the designation.) At that time, according to Business Insider’s interview with ranger Lee Fahley, the name of the statue became “The Statue of Liberty.”

13 New York wasn’t the statue’s only possible US home

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Bartholdi himself scouted out the potential locations for his famous work. He also visited Boston, Sacramento, and Norfolk, Virginia, as potential sites for the statue during several trips to the United States, according to Business Insider. He used these trips to stir up support for the project, but also to make his final decision on where the statue should rest. According to the National Park Service, the first time Bartholdi sailed into New York, he saw what would become Liberty Island and knew that was where Lady Liberty should stand.

12 Suffragettes were not into the giant copper lady

The Atlantic

The Statue of Liberty’s dedication took place on October 28, 1886. This was over 30 years before the 19th Amendment passed giving women the right to vote, but the women’s suffrage movement was already in full swing. The suffragettes were less-than thrilled about Lady Liberty and came out on the dedication day to protest, starting the tradition of protest on Liberty Island. Matilda Joslyn Gage, a suffragette who was at the dedication, summarized the feelings of her fellow ladies as such: “It is the sarcasm of the 19th century to represent liberty as a woman, while not one single woman throughout the length and breadth of the land is as yet in possession of political liberty.” (History.com)

11 Thomas Edison wanted to make the statue talk using his phonograph

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Can you imagine a voice coming out of the 305 foot copper Colossus? It sounds very unnerving, but Thomas Edison, inventor of the phonograph and other technology, not only didn’t think this was scary, but also thought it was a good idea. He wanted to install a phonograph inside the Statue of Liberty to project speeches throughout Manhattan, according to Travel + Leisure. In 1878, Edison told newspapers that he was designing a “monster disc” for Lady Liberty, but it was never installed.

10 President Ulysses Grant sanctioned the construction of the statue if it could be made into a lighthouse

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To justify spending money on the Statue of Liberty and the use of Bedloe’s Island, President Grant required that be built as a lighthouse, according to Parade. And it did function as a lighthouse for a time, from 1886 to 1902, according to The Telegraph. The light could shine up to 24 miles away. Parade notes, however, that the Statue of Liberty was never very successful as a lighthouse as Bedloe’s Island was too far inland.

9 Lady Liberty’s head was displayed in a Paris park before it was shipped to the United States

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The pieces of the statue were made in France before being shipped to the United States. The marvel’s head was on display at the Paris World Fair in 1878. Alexander Graham Bell also showed his telephone at this fair, and Thomas Edison his phonograph, according to Culture Trip. Coincidentally, the statue’s head is not the only part that was on public display prior to installation: the hand holding the torch was displayed at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, according to the New York Public Library. This made Philadelphia a contender for the statue’s placement for a time.

8 The Statue of Liberty’s copper exterior is the same thickness as 2 US pennies.

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In case you didn’t know, the Statue of Liberty is copper and was originally the same color as the US coin with the smallest denomination. Lady Liberty’s copper coating is also 3/32 of an inch thick, which is about the thickness of two US pennies. It shared the copper color for about the first thirty years of its existence; according to Travel + Leisure, the patina of the statue became truly green in the 1930s. While the green is iconic today, it was not an intended part of the statue’s life. According to Elizabeth Mitchell, author of Liberty’s Torch: The Great Adventure to Build the Statue of Liberty, in an interview with Travel + Leisure, Bartholdi and his team didn’t know that the statue would turn green and instead anticipated that a darker red color would come with age.

7 The pedestal for the Statue of Liberty is built on an old fort.

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Before it was Liberty Island, the Statue of Liberty’s home was called Bedloe’s Island. And starting in 1811, it housed Fort Wood, a military garrison and sometimes POW camp that was built in the shape of an eleven-sided star. According to the New York State Military Museum, it was named after Lt. Col Elenzer Wood and was originally completed with 30 guns. During the Civil War, it housed a hundred sick Confederate prisoners of war. According to Untapped Cities, the island continued to house personnel and their families until the 1930s, long after the island became host to the Statue of Liberty.

6 Liberty Island (nee Bedloe’s Island) has a dark history

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As Bedloe’s Island, the island did not only house a military base, but also some unsavory and unhealthy individuals. Starting in 1736, Bedloe’s Island was repeatedly used as a quarantine site during major breakouts of smallpox and yellow fever. The buildings on the island were burned during the Revolutionary War and in 1796 Governor’s Island became New York’s new quarantine site.

5 The poem “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus, engraved at the base of the Statue of Liberty, was nearly forgotten

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The line “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” will be a familiar line to most, but the name Emma Lazarus may not be, though she wrote them. Emma Lazarus was a relatively famous poet in the 19th century who, according to Mental Floss, wrote those words as part of a poem auctioned off to raise money to build the statue’s pedestal. It sold for $1500 (about $37,000 today). Then Lazarus passed young and her work faded from the limelight until 1901, when philanthropist Georgina Schuyler started campaigning for the poem to be engraved and installed at the Statue of Liberty’s feet. According to Mental Floss, this happened two years later and the poem remains there today.

4 Publisher Joseph Pulitzer was largely responsible for the statue being built at all

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So the United States had to pay for the pedestal, but where was that money going to come from? Funding for the plinth was a major struggle. Governor of New York, Grover Cleveland, refused to allocate state funds for the project, according to the BBC, and US Congress couldn’t agree on any sort of funding plan. A fundraising committee was formed to raise money, but fell short. Enter journalist and publisher of the New York World, Joseph Pulitzer, who took up the cause. He published ads in his newspapers urging the common man to donate, saying “Let us not wait for the millionaires to give us this money,” according to the National Park Service. He then printed the names of all the donors in the World. Many of these donors gave a dollar or less, but in the end Pulitzer’s campaign raised the remaining funds.

3 Designer Bartholdi wanted the statue to be covered in gold—but wanted the US to fund the decoration

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As we’ve seen throughout this list, Bartholdi had some very lofty ideas—both literal and figurative—for his liberty statue. Bartholdi wanted the Statue of Liberty gilded so that it would be visible at night, according to Parade. He suggested that the US undertake this endeavor. While it would have looked nice, it was not a cost anyone in the US was going to cover. He did eventually get a small part of his golden dreams realized, though he didn’t get to see it. In 1985, the Statue of Liberty’s torch, first damaged in 1916, was removed and replaced. The flame of the new torch is covered in gold leaf.

2 The pieces of the Statue of Liberty almost didn’t make it across the Atlantic Ocean

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The Statue of Liberty was first built in pieces, a lot of pieces. 350 pieces to be exact, packed in 214 and pieces, all loaded into the French ship Isere. According to the archives of the US Department of Defense, the ship endured rough seas in the first portion of its journey across the Atlantic. We very nearly lost all of the bits and bobs of Lady Liberty to the waves. Fortunately, the ship, its crew, and the statue all survived and arrived in New York on June 17, 1885. According to the Department of Defense, the ship was met with fanfare, but the pieces had to wait a while to be put into use, as the base wasn’t yet finished.

1 There was almost a statue of liberty at the Suez Canal

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Bartholdi envisioned a statue of liberty at the opening of the Suez Canal in Egypt. Construction of the canal, led by Frenchman Ferdinand de Lesseps according to History.com, was started in 1854 and finished in 1869. According to Smithsonian, Bartholdi made several models of a statue, which he called “Egypt Carrying the Light to Asia.” According to Travel + Leisure, Bartholdi pitched the idea of building the statue for the opening of the Suez Canal; this statue would have been a peasant woman holding a lantern. According to Mental Floss, the Egyptian government declined the idea because of the cost of the project.

References: Business Insider; Untapped Cities; Travel + Leisure; Smithsonian; History.com; Huffington Post; NY Daily News; The National Park Service; Mental Floss

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