“I first saw you on the evening of May 4, 1909, from the deck of the immigrant ship that brought me from Norway. I was wondering…‘What is going to happen to me?’…But you gave me courage.”
Four in 10 Americans descend from someone who, like Olaf Holen, quoted above, was heartened by the Statue of Liberty’s torch when he arrived at New York Harbor. For those immigrants, their first glimpse of “Lady Liberty” meant they had made it to “the New World” and could anticipate its promise of liberty and opportunity.
Even before the statue’s 204,000 kilograms of copper and steel were cast, its message was widely understood. French promoters wanted a gift from their country to the United States that would symbolize both nations’ commitment to liberty. French contributions paid for the statue and American gifts the pedestal. Schoolchildren in each country were among the contributors. (An Iowa kindergarten class chipped in $1.35.)
The Statue of Liberty was dedicated on October 28, 1886. Because of its proximity to Ellis Island, gateway to America for so many immigrants between 1892 and 1954, the statue has always been associated with newcomers, and with the American dream they hoped to make their own.
The link between Lady Liberty and American immigrants explains the 1903 inscription of Emma Lazarus’s poem “The New Colossus” on a bronze plaque at her pedestal: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
The Statue of Liberty attracts 4 million visitors a year. If you decide to join them, be prepared. You’ll need to climb 354 stairs to enjoy the panoramic view from 25 windows in the statue’s crown.