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Lady Liberty's new look; in 30 months, some 500 workers from almost every nationality of immigrants to America have rekindled Liberty's light in New York harbor.

LADY LIBERTY'S NEW LOOK On August 29, 1927, Harry, Jack, Murray, and Izzie, four immigrant brothers from Poland, stood on the deck of the U.S.S. Leviathan as it sailed into New York harbor. As the ship passed the Statue of Liberty, they looked up at her and wondered: Would she be for them and for their families what she had represented to the world for the previous 43 years--a symbol of hope and freedom, a harbinger of economic prosperity in a country where the only limitations seemed to be the extent of one's own dreams?

"In landing beneath its rays, people will know that they have reached a land where individual initiative is developed in all its power; where progress is a religion; where great fortunes become popular by the charity they bestow, and by encouraging instruction and science and casting their influence into the future." So said the Frenchman Count Ferdinand de Lesseps at the dedication ceremonies of the Statue of Liberty on October 28, 1886. After de Lesseps finished, Sen. William Evarts rose to address the crowd.

It was a cool, rainy day, but Bedloe's Island (renamed Liberty Island in 1956) was packed with dignitaries, and the surrounding waters were crowded with boats of every description, all decked out in colorful bunting. Everyone was eagerly awaiting the great moment of unveiling, for the face of the statue was still covered by a gigantic French flag.

In his speech, Evarts referred to the long ties of friendship between France and the United States that dated to Lafayette's service with George Washington. He praised the Franco-American Union, which raised money from the French people for the statue's construction.

After speaking for ten minutes, the senator paused, as if finished. Actually, he was only catching his breath. Meanwhile, a young man on the speaker's platform watched him intently; way up in the mist, on a scaffolding next to the head of the statue, three men eagerly watched the young man. The were Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the statue's sculptor; Richard Butler, the secretary of the American Committee; and D.H. King, who was in charge of erecting the statue. In their charge of erecting the statue. In their hands they held a cord, attached to the veil over the statue's face.

The young man below held a white handkerchief in his hand. Seeing that the speaker had paused, as if finished, the man madly waved his handkerchief. The three men above gave the cord a pull, and the veil fell from the face of Liberty. Bartholdi, shaken with emotion, turned and kissed and embraced the two men with him. A reporter from the New York Times described what happened next:

"All the noise that had gone before was child's play to what broke forth then. The whistles blew, the guns boomed, the bands played, the drum rolled, and the throngs on the island and on the river shouted one thundering peaen of acclamation that swept down the bay on the wings of the northeast gale and smote the hills of Staten Island with a huge shock of sound. Through the mist in every direction could be seen leaping sudden, sharp flashes of light, and then the peal of guns echoed across the water.

"It was the end of the oration of Mr. Evarts," the reporter wrote. "What he might have said had he spoken out of the fullness of his heart at that moment will never be known, because he sat down."

The reporter's windy prose notwithstanding, subsequent speakers did get in some words. President Grover Cleveland gave perhaps the best and the shortest speech of his career:

"We will not forget that Liberty has made here her home, nor shall her chosen altar be neglected," he said. "Willing votaries will constantly keep alive its fires, and these shall gleam upon the shores of our sister Republic in the East [France]. Reflected thence and joined with answering rays, a stream of light shall pierce the darkness of ignorance and man's oppression, until Liberty enlightens the world."

Nearly 100 years later, the Statue of Liberty's meaning remains the same. The sight of her somehow makes even the most hopeless cynic believe that in this land, anything is still possible--usually, for not all our citizens have yet achieved the American Dream. The statue is the great bastion of American ideals. The Roman numerals on the tablet in her left hand spell the date--July 4, 1776--on which history's most successful experiment in democracy began. The torch in her right hand is still freedom's light to nations of the world.

Yet, for the past two years, that light was extinguished--but only in a literal sense. Visitors to New York City were treated to the strange sight of the statue's huge frame engulfed in a lacy chrysalis of scaffolding, while workers scurried over her surface and disappeared in and out like worker bees. At night, without her flame, the statue was a brooding hulk, waiting patiently to be reborn.

During the years, Miss Liberty had been exposed to everything from acid rain to hurricanes--her torch and flame eroded beyond repair, her copper skin covered by a century's accumulated grime.

Inside, her armatures, the vertical and horizontal iron bars that support the statue's skin and hold its shape, had been slowly deteriorated by electrolysis, a chemical reaction between the iron and the copper skin.

In 1982, the U.S. Department of the Interior established a Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, headed by Lee Iacocca, to coordinate fund raising for the restoration of Ellis Island and the statue. The total cost was estimated at $230 million, with $30 million earmarked for the statue itself.

The foundation hired the firm of Swanke Hayden Connell Architects to draw up the plans, and the construction-management firm of Lehrer/McGovern, Inc., to supervise the project.

"We knew it wasn't just another job," Peter Lehrer declares in hindsight. "It was probably the most sought-after construction job in a decade. . .if we failed, the whole world would be watching."

Reconstruction began in January 1984, and complications immediately arose from the statute's unique location and composition. The contractors had to build a special dock to handle the heavy traffic of workers, material, and equipment to and from Liberty Island.

A huge scaffolding had to be erected so workers could reach all portions of the exterior, yet the scaffolding could not touch the statue, whose delicate copper skin is only a thick as a penny--about 3/32 of an inch. It had to remain 18 inches away from Liberty's skin. The result was the tallest, and the most expensive ($2 million), freestanding scaffolding in the world.

The rebuilding of the torch and flame presented another problem. It required workers skilled in the highly specialized craft of repousse, an ancient technique of hammering metal onto a sculpted form, for which no firm existed in the United States.

Thus began the trans-Atlantic trek of Gene McGovern, of Lehrer/McGovern, Inc., to select among 24 French and German firms that bid for the job. Metalliers Champenois of Reims, France, was choosen. In September 1984, the company sent 12 craftsmen and two tons of specialized tools to New York for the 14-month task.

Besides a language problem (only 1 of the 12 spoke English) the French repousseurs faced a formidable challenge--to reconstruct the torch and flame from Bartholdi's original plans. Working from old photographs, the artisans recreated the torch and flame in plaster, then in iron molds, and finally, in delicately hand-hammered copper. Sheets of 24-carat gold leaf were then glued to the flame by hand.

"Copying is always more difficult than creating an original," says the repousseur Jean Wiart. "We had to constantly refine our work until there was no doubt that it mirrored Bartholdi's genius." Eventually, this facet of the restoration was completed, and the new torch and flame were installed on the statue in November 1985. In the meantime, workers inside replaced the eroded armature bars with individually molded, rust-proofed, stainless-steel replicas. Only five original bars remain in the big toe of Lady Liberty's right foot.

Although the statue was not built to accommodate visitors, some 2 million sightseers climb through Liberty every year. The refurbished Liberty contains a 90-foot, two-level, hydraulic glass elevator that will allow visitors a dramatic view of the interior as they ascend to the parapet. A second elevator will accommodate the disabled. Two new stainless-steel staircases equipped with rest platforms, wide railings, and other safety features rise to the observation area in the crown.

The lighting system, perhaps the most dramatic innovation, features 20 lights pits placed at the statue's base. Some lights will illuminate the statue's body; others, trained higher, will reflect off the gold-leaf covered flame to create the effect of a lighted torch. Lighting engineers have been conducting tests for six months to make sure all is ready when President Reagan visits on the night of July 3 for the official rededication ceremony.

When you see the restored Statue of Liberty on television during the Fourth of July weekend, she will look ever better than she did at her first unveiling, her future assured for at least another 100 years. Liberty will continue to stand for freedom and opportunity, especially for immigrants--like Harry, Jack, Murray, and Izzie.

Whatever happened to them? Well, Izzie, Jack, and Murray became furriers, and Harry became a candy wholesaler. They all married. Izzie had no children. Jack's son is a messenger in Los Angeles. Harry's son fled the United States to Canada, to escape the Vietnam War draft, and is now a Canadian citizen.

Murray's son wrote this article.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Rosen, Feed
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jul 1, 1986
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