On the 4th of July, we commemorate the birth of our country and the tenets upon which it was founded: freedom and independence. The Statue of Liberty has become a prominent symbol of these great tenets and of The United States itself.
Can you imagine having this significant monument as a staple in our NoMad neighborhood? Rewind about 140 years, and you would see part of Lady Liberty right here on the northwest corner of Madison Square Park. From 1876 to 1882, Liberty’s grand, torch-holding arm stood in the Park to spark interest in and raise funds for the completion of the statue’s base.
While the statue was a gift from the French, Americans were responsible for providing the massive pedestal (154 feet tall—exactly 3 feet taller than the statue herself!) upon which Lady Liberty would stand. Without the necessary funding for the pedestal, the arm would be a standalone structure, and the rest of the statue would not come. What better place to raise funds for the project than Madison Square, which was the cultural and societal hub of city and the country, at the time.
New Yorkers were excited by the installment of the epic arm and torch. The New York Times wrote, “Finally, our eyes were gladdened by the actual receipt of a section of ‘Liberty,’ consisting of one arm; with its accompanying hand of such enormous proportion that the thumb nail afforded an easy seat for the largest fat woman now in existence.”
Many fundraising efforts were undertaken: Private solicitations; postcards and miniature statues were sold; and for a fee, one could even climb a ladder up to the balcony of the torch, which stood well over 100 feet in the air. But, the incoming funds soon slowed, and a competition was sparked. Other cities began to vie for the arm. The thought was that it might move back to Philadelphia, where it had had a month-long debut at the 1876 Centennial Exposition before being shipped to its intended New York home. Other viable prospects included becoming the top of the Washington Monument and being relocated to Boston Harbor.
New York was not happy with the idea of losing Lady Liberty, or even part of her. The New York Times responded to the possibility vehemently in 1882, “This statue is dear to us, though we have never looked upon it, and no third-rate town is going to step in and take it from us. Philadelphia tried that in 1876 and failed. Let Boston be warned in time that she can’t have our Liberty. We have more than a million people in this City who are resolved that that great light-house statue shall be smashed into minute fragments before it shall be stuck up in Boston Harbor.” The article made it clear that New Yorkers were not ready to let anyone “steal away our grand, symbolic, international, one hundred and twenty feet high statue.” New fervor was thus ignited in the fundraising efforts, and soon, New York raised what was needed for our great statue’s pedestal.
In 1886, the complete Statue of Liberty was dedicated in New York City. As we celebrate this Fourth of July weekend, it is moving to think of the role that our own Madison Square Park had in bringing this icon of freedom to the entire world.