Tracing the Paths of Our Lady Liberties


Beyond the political maneuvering that shaped America's two lady liberties, the physical acts of transporting and installing the statues were laden with their own complications. Here were two statues that could not be simply packed in a crate and shipped to the United States. The Statue of Liberty's sheer size called for drastic measures, and Lady Freedom's rocky overseas voyage to her homeland nearly dumped her overboard. The journeys of these American symbols, in fact, sometimes parallel the voyages that America's pilgrims and later immigrants endured to make it to America.

Packed in Pieces: the Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty stands 151 feet (46 meters) tall and weighs 225 tons. The palm of her hand alone could contain several people. On the 4th of July, 1884, when Liberty was delivered to the American Ambassador in Paris, her enormous mass and gargantuan proportions awed the people crowded around her. She looked like a 15-story giant against the four- and five-story buildings of the city. People perched on rooftops to be able to take in her whole presence (Trachtenberg, 135).

To travel from Paris to New York Harbor, Liberty had to be disassembled into 300 pieces and shipped in more than 200 wooden crates. The pieces of her torch-bearing arm alone--which had been displayed previously in Philadelphia for the 1876 centennial--filled 21 boxes.

Once Liberty was ready to be shipped to the United States, problems appeared on the other side of the Atlantic: the base on which she would stand was far from complete. (see Politics: The Agendas Behind the Monuments) Finally, on June 17, 1886 Liberty arrived, and was officially installed on a massive monument designed by Richard Morris Hunt. In October of 1886, President Grover Cleveland delivered a dedication address at Liberty's dedication ceremony, during which she was ultimately unveiled to the American people.


Asail on Stormy Seas: Lady Freedom

Lady Freedom's proportions may not equal the enormity of the Statue of Liberty, but Lady Freedom required special attention as well. Designed and completed by Thomas Crawford, Freedom was born in Rome in 1857, standing 19 feet tall and weighing 14,985 pounds. Strapped, in several pieces, onto an bark, Freedom set sail for the United States from Leghorn expecting to arrive within months. Her trip, however, became a harrowing one. The bark on which she was tied suddenly sprang a leak and had to be harbored in Gibraltar for repairs. Heavy gails nearly toppled her over, and once again her ship began to leak. Freedom had to disembark in Bermuda and be loaded onto a new cargo ship. Only parts of her made it onto the ship, however, so Freedom arrived in New York only half complete. Finally, by March of 1959, nearly one year later, she came together again in Washington, DC. Her voyage replicated the journeys of explorers and pilgrims of centuries before, sailing for a new home they had never seen, battling the storms of the open seas, and barely making it ashore.

To read about Lady Freedom's voyage in more depth, see the University of Virginia's hypertext issue of Rita Dove's Lady Freedom Among Us.

It took Lady Freedom nearly one year to arrive in the United States, but even then her ascendancy to the top of the Capitol dome was delayed. As the Civil War neared and almost a dozen Southern states talked of secession, the completion of the new U.S. Capitol became second priority to the greater issues of slavery, expansion and national unity. Yet amid the turmoil, work on Freedom continued. Arriving in pieces, she was cast at the Clark Mill's Foundry near Bladensburg, Maryland, under the care, ironically, of a mulatto slave. In an address to Congress 70 years later, a long-time admirer of Lady Freedom, William A. Cox, recalled the facts surrounding Freedom's construction:

... the facts are that [Freedom's] successful taking apart and handling in parts as a model was due to the faithful service and genius of an intelligent negro in Washington named Philip Reed, a mulatto slave owned by Mr. Clark Mill, and that much credit is due him for his faithful and intelligent services rendered in modeling and casting America's superb Statue of Freedom, which kisses the first rays of the aurora of the rising sun as they appear upon the apex of the Capitol's wonderful dome. (Congressional Record (1928), 1200)

In December 1863, as the country still reeled from the effects of its bloody Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln oversaw the placement of "Armed Liberty," which for unknown reasons soon was called Lady Freedom, at the top of the Capitol Dome.