“There is one day that is ours…all we Americans go back to the old home…bless that day…Thanksgiving Day an institution.”
Taken from “Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen,” a classic 1907 short story by O. Henry, these words remind us of all our blessings: family, friends (both living and past) and circumstances.
A recent event in the news brought together a national symbol and a national institution, both of which celebrate our values, both of which we can be very thankful for — the Statue of Liberty and the National Park Service.
How many of you were aware that the torch which is held by Lady Liberty is not the original torch that was on the colossal neoclassical sculpture when it was dedicated in October of 1886? It’s not — it hasn’t been since 1985.
The National Park Service, which has been caring for the Statue since 1933, last week organized a complicated move, one which took the original torch from its resting spot inside the monument’s pedestal, to a new museum on the other side of Liberty Island. Talk about a complex, dangerous move, one that has been in the works for more than a year!
The new museum is slated to open next spring: this change of venue for the torch is part of a $100 million upgrade to the monument and it surroundings. But, in the scope of the entire project, this relocation was the nail-biting, stomach churning episode that had all concerned. One slip up and a national icon could have been damaged.
It went off without a hitch.
The original torch had actually been the first piece of the Statue to arrive in the United States as a gift from France; it was shipped in crates over time.
The torch was taken to Philadelphia, where it was displayed at the 1876 World’s Fair at Fairmount Park. If you are interested, the last building standing from that Fair, Memorial Hall, has a replica of the torch as it was presented.
Returning to New York, the torch was then shown to the public as part of an exhibit to raise money for building the pedestal for the complete Statue. As difficult as it may be to believe today, that fundraising proved to be arduous: finally, due in part to a newspaper campaign where more than 120,000 people gave a dollar or less, it was completed.
The 3,600 pound torch ultimately became part of the Statue in 1886. But problems then ensued.
As originally designed, the torch provided little in the way of illumination at night: one account said it was more like a glowworm than a beacon.
So, in 1916, the man who created Mount Rushmore, Gutzon Borglum, added some attractive windows, which increased the light — but leaked badly during rain.
Many other natural and man-made events occurred which harmed the Statue — for example, saboteurs attacked a nearby munitions plant, sent debris flying into it.
By the 1980’s, restoration was clearly in need. The right arm, which held the torch aloft, was swaying in strong winds. A complete structural failure was possible.
Under the leadership of Chrysler chairman, Lee Iacocca, more than $350 million was raised and the torch was replaced by a replica that was, in actuality, more of what original sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi had in mind — it was now encrusted in 24 carat gold-leaf, a feature which was too expensive in the 1880’s.
A farewell tour was arranged. The old torch even appeared in the 1985 Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, California. Upon returning to New York, it was placed inside the monument until last week.
In previous constructions, the Statue was closed off to the public — but the NPS didn’t want to any way impeded the flow of visitors (over 4 million per year). So, when the park shut down for the night, a crane removed the torch, placed it on a special hydraulic vehicle which transported it to the new space.
Aside from tending to statue transplant, the National Park Service, which employees more than 20,000 people, cares for a system that includes more than 400 properties/units, truly the environmental “crown jewels” of our country.
On this Thanksgiving Day, it is well to remember the motto associated with the NPS: leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but memories. A slogan that could apply to many areas of our lives.