It was 122 years ago this week that one of the most important symbols of our nation was unveiled on Bedloe's Island in New York's Upper Bay.
The Statue of Liberty, the work of a great French sculptor, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, caused great excitement on both sides of the Atlantic. A small group of French intellectuals had advanced the idea for the statue. And the sculptor himself, as the United States prepared to celebrate the 100th anniversary of American independence, said, “I think it will be well to offer the Americans a statue, a statue of liberty.”
His idea was embraced by the members of this group, who had deep affection for the United States based on their admiration for our system of government and for the French patriots who helped us achieve our independence.
French citizens raised $250,000 to construct the statue and, thanks to a campaign led by Joseph Pulitzer and the New York World, $120,000 was raised from about 120,000 Americans, most of them New Yorkers, to build a pedestal for the statue.
On a bleak, rain-swept October day in 1886, President Grover Cleveland came to New York to dedicate the statue.
Distinguished citizens, including governors of many states and leading Frenchmen joined Cleveland aboard a warship that steamed to Bedloe's Island.
The guns of other Navy ships thundered a 21-gun salute to the president. Then the 52-year-old sculptor himself, with some difficulty, walked up the 167 steps from the pedestal to the head of Miss Liberty. After several speeches, the French flag was pulled off the face of the statue. The crowd erupted in cheers.
All of this is a part of New York's colorful history. But it's the symbolism of the statue that endures for all the world and for the immigrants who still come here seeking freedom and economic opportunity.
The beautiful words penned by Emma Lazarus, engraved on a bronze plaque inside the statue, still inspire us: “Give me your tired, you 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!”