Saturday, March 21, 2009

Homesteaders first glimpse of America: The History and Importance of the Statue of Liberty National Monument

Many American’s could look back on their heritage and probably discover a relative that experienced seeing the statue of liberty, hoping for a better life in America. Or perhaps that relative was an excited child: “In America life is golden, in America the flowers are more beautiful, in America the world is much better, and that’s what I’m longing for” said Renee Berkoff, a young immigrant to America in 1922 (Arriving, 2008).





By Jenna Specht
Southeast Community College


The Statue of Liberty National Monument holds an important place in our nation’s young history. She holds historical importance as a symbol of friendship between nations and freedom for immigrants.

In this essay, we will explore the history and importance of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, which together compose the Statue of Liberty National Monument; we will also look at how the immigration history of these monuments is connected to present day Americans. Let’s start with the history and construction of the Statue of Liberty.

A proposal was made by French historian Edouard Laboulaye to put into motion the funding and designing of the Statue of Liberty (Ellis, 2009). Formerly known as “Liberty Enlightening the World,” The Statue of Liberty has stood, since 1886, as a symbol of freedom. The proposed statue was to be a gift from the French to the United States in honor of the nations’ friendship (Statue, 2006).

The construction and completion of the statue was a combined effort between the French and American people. The French were in charge of constructing the main portion of the statue.

French sculptor Fredrick Bartholdi was commissioned to design the French gift. To ensure the Statue was structurally sound, Bartholdi required the assistance of Alexandre Eiffel (the mastermind behind the Eiffel tower). Together the two men designed a statue supported internally by an iron skeletal system and is covered externally by copper sheeting (Statue, 2006).

The Americans were in charge of completing the pedestal on which the statue was to stand. Funding for the construction proved to be difficult so theatrical productions, art exhibitions, and auctions were held to raise money for the project. The American effort was aided by Joseph Pulitzer, who used his writing skills to gain support for the effort (Statue, 2006).

In the movie National Treasure II the Liberty Statue -an almost exact copy of the United State’s statue- located in Paris France was the location of a clue to a treasure. The movie suggests that Laboulaye left behind clues in his work. In my research I did not find any clues to a treasure, but symbols were incorporated in the construction of the Statue, however not by Laboulaye as the movie suggest but Bartholdi (Miller, 1992).

The 25 windows in the Statue’s crown represent the 25 gems on earth; the seven points on her crown signify liberty radiation to the seven continents and the seven seas (Statue, 2006).

At the bottom of the Statue is located a chain. The French used this chain to indicate how young America broke free from the chains of Britain (Miller, 1992). Finally the tablet represents the Declaration of Independence (Statue, 2006).

For the trip across the Atlantic Ocean the Statue was separated into 350 individual pieces and then loaded into 214 crates (Statue, 2006). According to the National Park Service (2006) it arrived in “New York Harbor in June of 1885 on board the French, Isere.” Interestingly the statue arrived from the French months before the base was completed (Miller, 1992). The Statue of Liberty was officially dedicated, by President Grover Cleveland on October 28th 1886 (Liberty, 2009).

The Statue has undergone restoration in recent decades. One major change made to the statue dealt with the torch. The torch use to be made of glass windows though which light emanated, however the glass windows leaked causing internal structural damage to the statue. So, it was replaced with the torch we see today (Miller, 1992). Other repairs were done to offset the effects of salty air.

The Statue of Liberty is not the only important structure that makes up National Monument. Ellis Island was the former principal immigration center for America

The federal government saw the need to regulate immigration into the United States, rather than just allowing the states to handle immigration alone. According to History Channel article Ellis Island – Timeline (2008) “Ellis Island Immigration Station officially opened on January 1, 1892. On that day 700 immigrants passed through Ellis Island.”

After arriving at Ellis Island immigrants had to complete several steps before they were permitted into the country (Ellis Island – Gateway, 2008).


  • Baggage – The immigrants checked their heaviest baggage before they proceeded into the Great Hall. Often the immigrants were allowed only one large item (for example a violin).
  • Stairs of Separation - After checking most of their baggage, the immigrants would proceed up a flight of stairs while, according to the History Channel article Ellis Island - Gateway (2008) “A United States Public Health physician observe them in what came to be known as the ‘six-second exam’ – looking for tell tale signs of disease or insanity.” If an ailment was detected the immigrant was held in the dormitories; if no ailment was detected the immigrant was nodded to continue on into the Great Hall. The Great Hall was known as the registry room where immigrants would wait for admission into the United States.
  • Cafeteria - Immigrants were served their first American meal, with food many had not been exposed to including ice cream!

  • Kissing Post – After immigrants were permitted into the United States, they proceeded down another staircase; where they would often come in contact with waiting family members. According to the History Channel (2008) “this place became known as the ‘kissing post’ because of the many happy reunions that took place there.”
In this essay, we have looked at the two important parts to the Statue of Liberty National Monument, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The discussion included the designing and construction of the Statue of Liberty, and historical significance. We, also, discussed the role of Ellis Island in managing immigration to America. The history of this monument has historical ties to our nation as a whole as well as us as individual Americans.

Many of us could probably discover a relative that experienced seeing the statue of liberty. And many of us probably had immigrating relatives that agreed with Renee Berkoff when she said:

“In America life is golden, in America the flowers are more beautiful, in America the world is much better, and that’s what I’m longing for.”

References:

Arriving at Ellis Island. (2008). History Channel. Retrieved January 25th, 2009, from http://www.history.com/video.do?name=americanhistory&bcpid=1681694255&bclid=1716449937&bctid=1473707246

Ellis Island, & Liberty, Statue of. (2009). In Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved January 25 2009, from Encyclopedia Britannica Online.

Ellis Island - Gateway. (2008). History Channel. Retrieved January 25th, 2009, http://www.history.com/content/ellisisland/gateway/entrance

Ellis Island - Timeline. (2008). History Channel. Retrieved January 25th, 2009, http://www.history.com/content/ellisisland/timeline

Miller, N. (1992). The Statue of Liberty. Chicago: Children's Press.

Statue of Liberty National Monument. (2008). History Channel. Retrieved January 25th, 2009, http://www.history.com/encyclopedia.do?articleId=227261

Statue of Liberty National Monument - History and Culture. (2006, October 5). U.S National Park Service. Retrieved January 25th, 2009, http://www.nps.gov/stli/historyculture/history-continued.htm

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