BackStory is a weekly public radio show and podcast hosted by Peter Onuf, Ed Ayers, and Brian Balogh. We take a topic and try to find the most interesting stories to help give that topic context through three centuries of American history.

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The Statue of Liberty reopens today, with funding from New York state. It’s not the first time New Yorkers have chipped in for Lady Liberty - when the idea for the statue was first proposed, Americans agreed to fund the construction of the pedestal, while the people of France raised the funds for the statue herself. So in 1876, in an effort to drum up some publicity and get more Americans to reach into their pockets, the statue’s hand was exhibited at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, pictured here (the sculptor himself, Frédéric Bartholdi, poses with his creation by the flame). Soon after, Liberty’s hand was moved to Madison Square Park in New York, where it remained until 1882 as part of the fundraising drive (for 50 cents, visitors could climb up to the balcony around the torch - a much less arduous climb than today’s!). Eventually reunited with the rest of her body, the Statue of Liberty - hand triumphal - was installed and unveiled in New York harbor in 1886.
Liberty herself was meant to represent “Libertas” - the Roman Goddess of Freedom - and not, as many New Yorkers at the time assumed, “Columbia” - the poetic embodiment of the nation, made prominent by Phillis Wheatley and other poets of the Revolution, whose image had been widely used in the 19th Century. For more on Columbia, and how she lost out to Lady Liberty (among others!), take a listen to our latest show, exploring the varied and contested legacies of Columbia’s namesake - Christopher Columbus - in American life.

Image from Retronaut.

The Statue of Liberty reopens today, with funding from New York state. It’s not the first time New Yorkers have chipped in for Lady Liberty - when the idea for the statue was first proposed, Americans agreed to fund the construction of the pedestal, while the people of France raised the funds for the statue herself. So in 1876, in an effort to drum up some publicity and get more Americans to reach into their pockets, the statue’s hand was exhibited at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, pictured here (the sculptor himself, Frédéric Bartholdi, poses with his creation by the flame). Soon after, Liberty’s hand was moved to Madison Square Park in New York, where it remained until 1882 as part of the fundraising drive (for 50 cents, visitors could climb up to the balcony around the torch - a much less arduous climb than today’s!). Eventually reunited with the rest of her body, the Statue of Liberty - hand triumphal - was installed and unveiled in New York harbor in 1886.

Liberty herself was meant to represent “Libertas” - the Roman Goddess of Freedom - and not, as many New Yorkers at the time assumed, “Columbia” - the poetic embodiment of the nation, made prominent by Phillis Wheatley and other poets of the Revolution, whose image had been widely used in the 19th Century. For more on Columbia, and how she lost out to Lady Liberty (among others!), take a listen to our latest show, exploring the varied and contested legacies of Columbia’s namesake - Christopher Columbus - in American life.

Image from Retronaut.

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