Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Statue Of Liberty; "Nickled And Dimed To Life"


She was born around 1876.  Designed by Frenchman Frederic Bartholdi, she was to be a gift from the people of France, in thanks for America's grand gift of freedom to the world.  She was paid for by French school children to honor the American founders who formed the first government based on natural rights and the supremacy of personal liberty.  She was meant to lift her lamp into the sky upon the American Centennial.  The French would build her and send her on her way to America, where a foundation would be constructed at the very gates of freedom so that her lamp may light the way for the million immigrants each year who fled tyranny and poverty in the darker corners of the world.

She arrived in New York City amidst economic least among the working class.  So her head and crown, and torch bearing arm were put on display at Madison Square Garden, in honor of the city''s Centennial Exposition.

New York City was then the home to half of the world's millionaires.  The Carnegie's and the Rockefeller's and the John Pierpont Morgans built their ornate mansions along 5th Avenue and dined in luxury at Del Monaco's...but did not see fit to honor the country that made all their vast wealth possible.

Then, Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the New York World, decried the delay in building the grand lady her home.  And he reached out to those to whom Lady Liberty lived and breathed in their hearts; the poor immigrants, the tenement dwellers, the Irish laborers who built the bridges and raised the skyscrapers for the paltry sum of two dollars per day!  

A young woman, a Jewish poet,  a student of the classics, named Emma Lazarus was so touched by the generosity of the poor, of their willingness to give something back to honor their new home, sat down and wrote a poem.  She called it "The New Colossus" in honor of Lady Liberty and to what she means to immigrants here and for those who would come later.  She donated that poem to an auction to raise money for the statue's pedestal.  Young Emma would not live to see the statue she so dearly loved.  Returning from Europe in 1887, her ship passed through New York Harbor, past Lady Liberty, as Emma lay below decks, too ill with cancer to come above as they passed through.

So, fittingly, it was the poor who gave Lady Liberty her home.  120,000 of them offered up nickels and dimes; none of them gave more than one dollar...and in 1886 the Lady With The Lamp would at last have a home, standing grandly on a lonely point called Bedloe's Island.  

In 1903, America honored Emma Lazarus by posting a plaque of her nearly forgotten poem at the base of the statue.  It reads in part:                          

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!"


Ken said...

Thank you very much for that! Only a few years back I made my first trip to New York, and that was one of the sites that truly bowled me over. Just the idea of the thousands who came past that site before me onto our shores. I pondered all the differing circumstances of the new residents and all that they must have been thinking seeing that sight for the first time. It must have been so grand yet so daunting. It is so hard to imagine. I had no idea of the history of the statue itself and how it was financed. This is why I frequent your page! After reading a little of the history though, Emma Lazarus's writing means so much more. It is now even sadder to me how the new brand of immigrant comes here disrespecting all that is past "the Golden Door" and we have completely forgotten the idea of "from the many, one". The melting pot, now we all insist on being different and America becomes so fractured. I hope someday we get back there. I hope...

A Modest Scribler said...

Ken, re immigrants seeing the Lady for the first time. I'm told that whatever side of the ship gave access to the Lady would be packed so heavily on that side of the ship that the crew would have to ask passengers to move to the middle of the ship lest they face capsizing.

Ken said...

Not unlike my tour boat!

mRed said...

Thanks. I learned something good reading this. ed jenkins

A Modest Scribler said...

Thanks, Ed. I've learned much from you as well.