Today we are going to visit Liberty Island, home to the Statue of Liberty. Until 1956 Liberty Island was known as Bedloe’s Island after Isaac Bedloe, a Dutch colonist, merchant and ship owner, who bought the island in 1667. The 12 acre island has had many names and was originally known to the Delaware Indians as Minnissais (meaning ‘Lesser Island’) and to early colonials as Great Oyster. For a short period following Bedloe’s death in 1673 the island was known as ‘Love Island’ after then Governor, Colonel Francis Lovelace, who wanted to allow people facing civil charges to live there safely.
The island also has a rich history. Throughout the times during which it was known as Great Oyster (one of the Oysters Islands), it was inhabited by the Native Americans who harvested shellfish and hunted small animals there.
Following the death of Isaac Bedloe, in 1732, the City of New York took control of the island and used it as a quarantine station, inspecting incoming ships for smallpox. In 1746 the island was purchased by Archibald Kennedy, who built a house and a lighthouse and tried to rename it ‘Kennedy Island’. Just two years later it was once again used as a quarantine station and in 1758 it was sold to the City of New York.
The city erected a hospital for patients who were suffering from infectious diseases, known as a ‘pest house’. During the American Revolution it became an asylum for Tory refugees (American colonists loyal to Great Britain) and then in 1776 colonial forces attacked the island and burned down all the houses. After the American Revolution the French were ceded control of the island and the American government realised the true value of this island with its strategic position giving a clear view of the entrance to New York Harbor and New York City.
The French were asked to leave in 1796 and a number of forts were constructed throughout the harbour and the city to protect New York from invasion. On the island an eleven-point, star-shaped fort initially known as ‘Works on Bedlow Island’ (later re-named Fort Wood) was constructed. The fort served as an ordinance depot between 1851 and 1876 and the army remained active on the island until 1937.
We arrive at Battery Park and wander over to the ferry terminal. Battery Park was named for the artillery batteries that were positioned there in the city’s early years to protect the settlement. We pass the American Merchant Mariner’s Memorial and head towards the large crowd of people waiting in line for the ferry. We join the queue and listen to a man playing Caribbean music on a steel drum (while cursing ourselves for not purchasing ‘priority entry tickets‘.
Finally it is our turn and we squeeze on to the Statue of Liberty ferry and set off. We watch as the Statue of Liberty grows before our eyes and soon we are stepping onto the Liberty Island dock. Liberty island seems much larger than I imagined and the statue towers over us.
The idea was born in 1865 when Édouard René de Laboulaye, a French political intellectual and anti-slavery activist, proposed the creation of a monument representing Liberty for the United States. He believed that the passage of the 13th amendment, stating the abolishment of slavery in the United States, was a milestone and proved that justice and liberty for all was possible. Auguste Barthodi, a sculptor and a friend of Laboulaye, was a great supporter of the idea and began to design the statue of ‘Liberty Enlightening the World’. During the first few years of the statue’s conception Barthodi visited the United States a number of times. The moment he entered New York Harbour by ship he spotted the place where he knew the statue must stand.
Ten years after Laboulaye came up with the idea he announced the project and the formation of the Franco-American Union as its fundraising arm. It was agreed that the French people would fund the statue and the American people would fund the pedestal on which it would stand.
In 1885 Barthodi completed the statue. It was disassembled, packed in more than 200 crates and shipped to New York. Over the next four months the statue was reassembled and mounted on a pedestal. On the 28th of October 1886, President Grover Cleveland officially dedicated the statue.
The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World depicts a woman holding a torch in her raised right hand and a tablet in her left, upon which is engraved ‘July IV MDCCLXXVI (July 4th, 1776), the adoption date of the Declaration of Independence. It is said that Barthodi modelled the face of the statue, which is over 8 feet tall, on his mother. By the feet of the statue lie broken shackles of oppression and tyranny and the seven rays on the crown of the statue represent the seven continents.
The ‘skeleton’ was made with the assistance of Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, the designer of the Eiffel Tower, and Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc. It was built from iron pylon and steel that allowed the copper ‘skin’ to move independently. The statue was made using a technique called repoussé, creating the ‘skin’ by hammering large copper sheets, 3/32 of an inch thick, onto the ‘skeleton’. During the restoration of the statue which was completed in 1986, the new torch was covered with thin sheets of 24k gold.
The statue now stands at 305 feet and 6 inches tall (approximately 93 metres), including the pedestal. The weight of the statue is 225 tons (450,000 pounds) and there are 154 steps leading from the pedestal to the head. The design of the skeleton took into account the strong winds of up to 50 mph that the statue would endure in New York Harbour and allows the skeleton to sway up to three inches and the torch to sway up to six inches.
We take hundreds of photographs of the statue from all different angles and of the New York City skyline before returning to the dock to journey on to Ellis Island.