A group of men watch a Frenchman leap around the rubble on a deserted island in the harbor of New York City. It is July 4, 1876. Do they see what he sees? A vision burns inside him. ``Liberty.'' A colossal woman holding up the torch of freedom. She would rise here, but which way would she face?
Suddenly he stops. A ship passes. Sunlight catches the stark faces of black-clad immigrants crowded on the deck, sailing into the harbor. Yes! Of course! She would face them! Lighting their way. Liberty, an unforgettable image to carry in their hearts as they span a continent.
This was the sculptor Auguste Bartholdi. His vision lasted all through 11 long years of the struggle to pay for and build the Statue of Liberty.
Building was no easy task. First, he made a four-foot-high clay model of the statue. He trollied that into the workshop of some of the best craftsmen in Paris. They made 10,000 measurements and built an eight-foot plaster model. Then this model was measured and, in segments, a three-story plaster model was built, and finally a 15-story model was made, piece by piece.
Now carpenters made hundreds of wooden forms the size of rowboats whose inner boards (like seats on end) matched the shape of each statue part exactly. Onto these forms sheets of copper were hammered into shape. The wooden forms were thrown away, and the copper sheets riveted together. That's the skin of the statue. What about the skeleton?
Fortunately, the most brilliant engineer of the era was a Frenchman named Eiffel who loved challenges. He invented a skeleton, or frame, and years later, the same principles were used to design airplane wings.
The ``skin'' of the statue actually hangs from the frame by scores of freely swiveling iron bands rivetted to iron straps. That makes her so flexible, hurricane winds can't blow her apart.
But attaching the skin to the frame was time consuming. It took her two and a half years to get dressed! Then they had to take her apart and build her all over again in America.
There, iron pilings in the base are set so deeply, embedded in concrete, that some say to tip over the Statue of Liberty you'd have to tip over the island itself. The same island where a Frenchman once had a vision -- that now all of us can see.