Campaign to Reopen the Statue of Liberty

Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Faith Lapidus. This week, learn about a campaign to let the public back inside one of America's most famous symbols, the Statue of Liberty.

Before September eleventh, two-thousand-one, two-million people a year visited Liberty Island in New York Harbor. Then, terrorist hijackers flew airplanes into the World Trade Center buildings three kilometers away. The attacks by al Qaeda on the United States that day killed more than three-thousand people.

Liberty Island closed immediately. The island reopened in December of that year. But not the great landmark. People still cannot go inside the statue. Attendance at the island was down five percent last year.

Officials say the statue must be made more secure. New communication systems are needed in case of fire or other emergency. And more emergency doors to get visitors out safely.

A five-million-dollar campaign is in progress to reopen the Statue of Liberty. To help lead the effort, movie director Martin Scorsese [score-ZAY-zay] made a television movie for the History Channel. The movie is called “Lady by the Sea: The Statue of Liberty.”

The goal is to get the public to give at least one-million dollars to add to improvements already made by the government.

The American Express company paid for the movie, and Mr. Scorsese gave his time. American Express also has guaranteed at least three-million dollars to the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation. The Folger’s coffee company has promised one-million dollars.

The foundation cares for Liberty Island and nearby Ellis Island. The nonprofit group works in cooperation with the National Park Service.

Ellis Island served for many years as the main immigration center for people who arrived in America. Now parts of it are a museum. Ellis Island was closed after September eleventh. But, like Liberty Island, it has been open again since December of two-thousand-one.

In his movie, Martin Scorsese explains the spirit of cooperation with France that brought the Statue of Liberty to the United States. "Lady by the Sea" also celebrates the idea that the statue was meant as a way to mark the end of slavery in the American South. The Frenchman who had the idea for the statue was against slavery. But today, others argue that any relationship to slavery was lost as the project moved ahead.

In any case, the Statue of Liberty has special meaning for Martin Scorsese. He says it had a great effect on his grandparents. Like so many immigrants, they saw it when they first arrived from Italy early in the last century.

People like to say the Statue of Liberty is in good condition for someone her age. France gave the statue to the United States in eighteen-eighty-four. The full name is "Liberty Enlightening the World." Ships that sailed into New York Harbor carried millions of immigrants past the statue.

The statue is forty-six meters tall. It is made mostly of copper. The color was reddish-brown, until time and weather turned it green. Liberty's right arm is high in the air and holds a torch, a golden light. Her left hand holds a tablet with the date July fourth, seventeen-seventy-six -- the date of the American Declaration of Independence.

On the head of the Statue of Liberty is a crown with seven points. Each of these rays is meant to represent the light of freedom as it shines on seven seas and seven continents. A chain that represents oppression lies broken at her feet. The people of France gave the Statue of Liberty to the United States as a gift to honor freedom.

The two nations became friends during the American Revolution against Britain. France helped the revolutionary armies defeat the soldiers of King George the Third. The war officially ended in seventeen-eighty-three. A few years later, the French rebelled against their own king.

A French historian and politician named Edouard-Rene Lefebvre de Laboulaye thought of the idea for a statue. He was giving a party in his home near Versailles in eighteen-sixty-five. This was the year the American Civil War ended. Slavery also ended in the United States.

It was a time when Laboulaye and others were struggling to make their own country democratic against the rule of Napoleon the Third. Laboulaye suggested that the French and Americans build a monument together to celebrate freedom.

One of the guests at the party was a young sculptor, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi. For years Bartholdi had dreamed of creating a very large statue. By the end of the party he had been invited to make one for the United States.

In eighteen-seventy-five the French established an organization to raise money for Bartholdi's creation. Two years later the Americans established a group to help pay for a pedestal to support the statue.

American architect Richard Morris Hunt was chosen to design the pedestal. It would stand forty-seven meters high. In France, Bartholdi designed a small version of his statue. Then he built a series of larger copies.

Workers created wooden forms covered with plaster for each main part. Then they placed three-hundred pieces of copper on the forms. The copper "skin" was less than three centimeters thick.

Now, in addition to a pedestal, the Statue of Liberty needed a structure that could hold its weight of more than two-hundred tons. Engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel created this new technology. Later he would build the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Eiffel and his helpers worked in Paris to produce a strong support system for the statue. The design also needed to let the statue move a little in strong winds.

France had hoped to give the statue to the United States on July fourth, eighteen-seventy-six. That was the one-hundredth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. But technical problems and lack of money delayed the project by eight years.

At last France presented the statue to the United States. The celebration took place in Paris on July fourth, eighteen-eighty-four. Americans started to build the pedestal that same year. But they had to stop. People had not given enough money to finish it.

A New York newspaper urged Americans to give more money for the pedestal. People gave one-hundred-thousand dollars more.

Now the huge statue had a pedestal to stand on. In France, the statue was taken apart for shipping to the United States. It arrived in two-hundred-fourteen wooden boxes.

On October twenty-eighth, eighteen-eighty-six, President Grover Cleveland officially accepted Liberty Enlightening the World. He said: “We will not forget that Liberty has here made her home.”

Over the years Americans shortened the name of the statue. They called it the Statue of Liberty, or Miss Liberty.

Twelve-million immigrants passed the Statue of Liberty by ship between eighteen-ninety-two and nineteen twenty-four. By then, Ellis Island had stopped much of its operations. The great wave of European immigrants was mostly over.

But millions of visitors kept coming to see the Statue of Liberty. By the nineteen-eighties, the statue badly needed repairs. Again people on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean raised money. Fireworks lit the sky at the celebration for the restored Statue of Liberty on July fourth, nineteen-eighty-six.

Even if the current campaign gathers enough money, there is still another step before the Statue of Liberty can reopen. The National Park Service must get permission within the government.

Liberty Island is open to visitors. But many people look forward to the day when they can again visit the museum inside the pedestal. Some want to climb the three-hundred-fifty-four steps to the crown. Others want to ride up to observation areas in an elevator to look at New York Harbor.

They say a symbol of freedom that has welcomed so many newcomers to America should once again welcome visitors inside.

Jerilyn Watson wrote our program, and Caty Weaver produced it. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Faith Lapidus. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.