Celebrating July Fourth at the Statue of Liberty
Download MP3 (Right-click or option-click the link.)
Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Barbara Klein. Later this week, Americans will celebrate the nation's Independence Day. On July fourth, seventeen seventy-six, colonial leaders approved the final Declaration of Independence for the United States.
This year, the city of New York will also celebrate the opening of part of an important symbol of America that has been closed to the public for the past eight years.
The Statue of Liberty has stood in New York Harbor for more than one hundred years. It was a gift from the people of France in eighteen eighty-four. Its full name is "Liberty Enlightening the World".
The Statue of Liberty is forty-six meters tall from its base. It is made mostly of copper. Throughout history, images of liberty have been represented as a woman. The statue is sometimes called "Lady Liberty."
The Statue of Liberty's face was created to look like the sculptor's mother. Her right arm holds a torch with a flame high in the air. Her left arm holds a tablet with the date of the Declaration of Independence -- July fourth, seventeen seventy-six. On her head she wears a crown of seven points. Each is meant to represent the light of freedom as it shines on the seven seas and seven continents of the world. Twenty-five windows in the crown represent gemstones found on Earth. A chain that represents oppression lies broken at her feet.
In nineteen oh three, a bronze plaque was placed on the inner wall of the statue's support structure or pedestal. On it are words from the poem "The New Colossus" written by Emma Lazarus in eighteen eighty-three. The plaque represents the statue's message of hope for people seeking freedom. These are some of its best known words:
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!
The United States and France have been friends and allies since the time of the American Revolution. France helped the American colonial armies defeat the British. The war officially ended in seventeen eighty-three. A few years later, the French rebelled against their king.
A French historian and political leader, Edouard-Rene Lefebvre de Laboulaye, had the idea for the statue. In eighteen sixty-five, he suggested that the French and the Americans build a monument together to celebrate freedom. Artist Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi immediately agreed to design it.
In eighteen seventy-five, the French established an organization to raise money for Bartholdi's creation. Two years later, an American group was formed to raise money to pay for a pedestal to support the statue. American architect Richard Morris Hunt was chosen to design this support structure. It would stand forty-seven meters high.
In France, Bartholdi designed a very small statue. Then he built a series of larger copies. Workers created a wooden form covered with plaster for each part. Then they placed three hundred pieces of copper on the forms. This copper skin was less than three centimeters thick.
The statue also needed a structure that could hold its weight of more than two hundred tons. French engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel created this new technology. Later, he would build the famous Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Eiffel and others worked in Paris to produce a strong iron support system for the statue. The design also needed to permit the statue to move a little in strong winds.
France had wanted to give the statue to the United States on the one hundredth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence -- July fourth, eighteen seventy-six. But technical problems and lack of money delayed the project. France finally presented the statue to the United States in Paris in eighteen eighty-four. But the pedestal, being built in New York, was not finished. Not enough money had been given to complete the project.
The publisher of the New York World newspaper came to the rescue. Joseph Pulitzer used his newspaper to urge Americans to give more money to finish the pedestal. His efforts brought in another one hundred thousand dollars. And the pedestal was finished.
In France, workers separated the statue into three hundred fifty pieces, put them on a ship and sent them across the ocean. The statue arrived in New York in more than two hundred wooden boxes. It took workers four months to put together the statue on the new pedestal. President Grover Cleveland officially accepted the statue in a ceremony on October twenty-eighth, eighteen eighty-six. He said: "We will not forget that Liberty has here made her home; nor shall her chosen altar be neglected."
The Statue of Liberty became a symbol of hope for immigrants coming to the United States by ship from Europe. More than twelve million people passed the statue between eighteen ninety-two and nineteen fifty-four on their way to the immigration center on nearby Ellis Island.
More than forty percent of Americans have an ancestor who passed through Ellis Island. Through the years, millions of people continued to visit the Statue of Liberty. A trip to New York City did not seem complete without it.
Still, the statue was old and becoming dangerous for visitors. In nineteen eighty-two, President Ronald Reagan asked businessman Lee Iacocca to lead a campaign to repair it. The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation raised about one hundred million dollars in private money to do the work. The repairs included replacing the torch and covering it with twenty-four carat gold. On July fourth, nineteen eighty-six, New York City celebrated a restored and re-opened Statue of Liberty.
Officials closed the Statue of Liberty following the terrorist attacks in New York on September eleventh, two thousand one. It remained closed until August, two thousand four. When it re-opened, visitors could only go onto the statue's pedestal. But the Statue continued to attract visitors—more than three million a year.
This year, on July fourth, visitors once again will be able to climb inside the statue all the way to the top. It is not an easy thing to do. More than three hundred fifty steps lead to Lady Liberty's crown. The National Park Service says it will limit the number of climbers to about two hundred a day. No more than ten people will be able to go up at one time. At that rate, officials estimate that more than one hundred thousand people will be able to climb to the top each year.
But if you want to visit the newly opened Statue of Liberty, you must do it within the next two years. That is because the National Park Service plans to close it again for more repairs. Officials say the improvements could take as long as two years. But they say the work will make it possible to safely double the number of visitors permitted inside.
The Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island is one of America's national parks. It includes both Liberty Island, where the statue stands, and nearby Ellis Island, the former federal immigration processing center.
Officials at the center examined many of the immigrants who arrived by ship before they were permitted to enter the United States. The main building was restored and opened as a museum in nineteen ninety. The museum includes pictures, videos, interactive displays and recordings of immigrants who went through Ellis Island until it was closed in nineteen fifty-four.
One popular exhibit is the Immigrant Wall of Honor outside the main building. It honors all immigrants to the United States no matter where they entered the country. It now lists the names of more than seven hundred thousand people. A new area of wall is being prepared for more names to be added.
An immigration history center on the island contains the ship records of passengers who entered through New York from eighteen ninety-two through nineteen twenty-four. Those were the years of the great wave of European immigration, before the United States passed restrictive immigration laws.
One recent visitor said the Ellis Island immigration hall feels alive with the stories of people who left their native lands long ago to start a new life in a new country.
This program was written by Nancy Steinbach and produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Barbara Klein. And I'm Steve Ember. You can find transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs at voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.