Let me be real with you, I love the Statue of Liberty. I’m not a hugely patriotic person, I don’t get excited by the National Anthem, and I have a million opinions about America and whether or not it’s broken — but the Statue of Liberty makes me teary-eyed. There’s that scene, for instance, in the animated film An American Tale, when the camera slowly pans over the Statue of Liberty, a shiny coppery color since it’s still being built. It’s literally a cartoon of Lady Liberty, but it made my tiny self feel choked up and filled with wonder. There’s something about her robes, her torch, her somber yet powerful expression — I love her.
I’m lucky enough to live in an area of Brooklyn where I can walk to the end of my street and gaze lovingly upon the Statue of Liberty from a beautiful pier — so I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about her and all her meaning. Formally titled La Liberté éclairant le monde meaning Liberty Enlightening the World, Lady Liberty was a gift from the people of France to the people of the United States in 1886. Designed by French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the idea originated with the president of the French Anti-Slavery Society, Édouard René de Laboulaye. At a dinner in his home, Laboulaye, a staunch abolitionist and supporter of the American Union, is supposed to have said, "If a monument should rise in the United States, as a memorial to their independence, I should think it only natural if it were built by united effort—a common work of both our nations."
The American Revolution and Independence in 1776, after all, greatly inspired the French Revolution, which lasted from 1789 to 1799. There was a lot of political and intellectual cross-over during these fraught, expansive times, with some great thinkers (think: Lafayette) traveling across the ocean to organize, inspire, and fight. A monument to shared independence and liberty between France and the United States makes a lot of sense given these historic circumstances.
There’s some debate about whether Laboulaye said what he said before, during or after the American Civil War, calling into question some of the roots of Laboulaye’s sentiment. Regardless, sculptor Bartholdi was inspired by the abolitionist’s words and the connection between France’s independence, the United States’ independence, the victory of the Union, and the power of liberty. A visit to New York in 1871 introduced Bartholdi to what was then known as Bedloe’s Island, now Liberty Island, the body of land that all ships entering New York had to pass, and the sculptor was struck by the nature of this “entrance” into the city. That island would be a perfect roost for Lady Liberty to welcome people into the United States.
The project took a long time to complete — the idea was kicking around as far back as 1865, supposedly, and wasn’t completed and dedicated until October, 1886. I want to say that this is because it was just how it worked back then, but the truth is, an art project of this scale would still take this much time — the ideation alone, approval from several governments and sub-committees, fundraising, and then the sheer magnitude of the creation and installation. It’s a surprise the Statue of Liberty isn’t an 8th Wonder of the World, given the scale.
So, she’s a beauty, and a testament to what a worldwide art installation can really look like — not to mention her all-encompassing meaning written right into her name. Whether you love liberty, love New York, love New Jersey, love America — Statue of Liberty tattoos are a great way to show your dedication. Some folks have done twists of our Lady Liberty, changing her meaning or making their tattoo into a commentary on freedom — regardless, she still shines, a beacon for all to see.