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Rev. Joey N. Welsh: An Important National Symbol

Another Angle, the occasional musings of a Kentucky Pastor: An Important National Symbol first printed 23 Cotober 2005 in the Hart County Herald
The next earlier Another Angle: Rev. Joey N. Welsh: To take a licking and keep on ticking

By The Rev. Joey N. Welsh

This week marks the anniversary of the public dedication of the Statue of Liberty, back on October 28, 1886. Designed by sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, the outer skin of the large hollow statue is held erect by a complicated metal skeleton engineered by Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel. (The tower in Paris bearing Eiffel's name was to open just a few years later.)



A gift from the people of France, Liberty Enlightening The World was a belated centennial birthday present to the people of the United States. At the time of the 1876 centennial, the completed torch and arm of the statue were displayed in Philadelphia, but it would be a several years before the whole statue was ready to be shipped and put in place.

I have been there and done the Statue of Liberty tour, and I once climbed with one of my sons to the observation windows in the statue's crown. (Visitors no longer are allowed up that high.) The last time I saw Liberty up close was in 2001, about six weeks before the September 11 attacks. I was with friends, and we took the cruise around the statue to the immigration museum at Ellis Island. I have pictures of us on the boat dock; in the background was the Manhattan skyline dominated by the World Trade Center towers. Some of the most moving photographs of 9/11 show the statue against the background of looming smoke, a symbol of hope in a time of terror.

Though the statue was a gift, its massive foundation and base had to be provided by Americans. Government support developed slowly, and when funds for construction lagged, publisher Joseph Pulitzer used his chain of newspapers (St. Louis Post-Dispatch and New York World) to promote fundraising for the project by promising that the name of everyone who donated to the cause would appear in the World.

Many gifts were a dollar or less, but Pulitzer kept his pledge, and all donors could see their names printed in the newspaper. Through hundreds of thousands of tiny gifts, many from schoolchildren and struggling immigrants, the Statue of Liberty was funded. (I think there is a sermon illustration in there about what can happen when people are willing to offer what they have, even when what they have seems indeed small.)

On the day of the dedication in 1886 the monument was completely veiled, and Bartholdi was stationed in the statue's crown, his eyes trained on a small boy standing at the base holding a handkerchief. At the conclusion of a dedication speech by Sen. William Evarts, the boy was to drop the handkerchief, prompting Bartholdi to pull a cord releasing the veil covering the world's largest statue -- also New York's tallest building in 1886.

Evarts was notoriously long-winded, and people were settling in for a long speech. A few minutes into the oration, Evarts paused to take in a breath. The boy thought the speech was over, dropped the handkerchief, and Bartholdi unveiled the Statue of Liberty. The crowds went wild as the celebrations began, and Evarts sat down, never completing the long speech. (Here's another sermon illustration about the relative importance of actions versus remarks, especially overly long remarks.)

Much briefer than Evarts' speech was the sonnet composed by Emma Lazarus, entitled "The New Colossus." Written by a prominent New Yorker who died young at the age of 37, while the statue still was brand new, the poem was one of several writings in a portfolio used in the campaign to raise construction funds for Liberty's base. Referring to the triumphal Colossus of Rhodes, a statue that was one of the legendary Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, Lazarus drew a contrast by noting that the new statue in New York Harbor would be a symbol of welcome to the meek.

Forgotten for a number of years, the poem's words were rediscovered and put on a plaque affixed in 1903 to a wall of the welcome lobby in Liberty's base. The plaque with the sonnet is now affixed over the monument's entranceway. Many people are familiar only with the closing lines of the sonnet, but the entire work is worthy of remembrance. This week, when the Statue of Liberty turns 119 years of age, is a good time to read Emma Lazarus' words anew.

The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame,
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "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-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
by Emma Lazarus, New York City, 1883
E-mail: joey_n_welsh@hotmail.com


This story was posted on 2011-10-23 08:15:36
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