Statue of Liberty – what was the Lady doing in the park?

The journey of Lady Liberty from its native France to the teeming shores of Manhattan was long and arduous, and her first appearance here was limited to just one body part: her torch-holding arm.

The Statue’s creator, Auguste Bartholdi, started working on the colossus in 1876 in Paris. The arm holding the touch was complete that same year, and it got to travel to America first. This choice was not random: if the project failed, the arm – that could stand as a standalone monument – is all we would have.

The arm in Madison Square Park in Manhattan. NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY

The arm arrived in New York after being exhibited at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. It stood in Madison Square Park for six years, from 1876 to 1882. At 42 ft (12.80 m) high, taller than treetops with the flame visible from afar, it was a sight to be seen.

However, it was not there just for the citizens’ amusement, but had a task – it was supposed to create excitement about the Statue and help raise funds for its construction. Visitors were allowed to climb to the platform at the torch base for a small fee, as well as buy souvenir photographs. The location choice was not accidental in terms of fundraising: Madison Square Park was the most prestigious residential location in town, and that’s where the money was.

The arm initially attracted lots of interest, but eventually blended with the landscape. Even in the 19th century, the jaded New Yorkers were hard to impress.

The head and shoulders were completed in 1878 and displayed at the Paris Universal Exposition. The entire Statue was constructed and assembled in Paris by 1884. It took another two years to raise money and build a pedestal in New York in 1886.

The Statue of Liberty is such an iconic New York presence that it’s hard to imagine it could have never been built. But if that happened, Madison Square Park would have been the location of a unique, albeit strange, monument – an outstretched lady’s arm holding a torch.

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