Saving The Statue

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There will be little visible change to Liberty’s copper skin. It is in beautiful health.

THERE WILL BE more to see on the walk up. With the screening around the pylon removed and the lighting improved, climbers should have a much better view of Liberty circling around them, and a person traveling up through the pedestal and the statue will be much better able to appreciate Liberty as a collaboration between Bartholdi, EiEeI, and Hunt- all of whose contributions are well worth seeing, even though Bartholdi’s work will always be the main focus. A new platform will be installed inside the head because the old one is corroded, but the experience of arriving up there—the slightly vertiginous and cramped feeling, with a sense of achievement compensating for the poor view through the small crown windows— will not be much changed. A new ventilation system for the statue and the pedestal will improve the environment for both visitors and the statue itself.

The American Museum of Immigration, in the statue’s base, has become a touchy subject. There are those who would like to see it moved to Ellis Island, which is itself becoming a sort of museum of immigration. However, objections have been raised by people who link Ellis Island with bitter memories and do not want immigration enshrined there. The museum probably will stay where it is.

Throughout the statue’s restoration, the work being done will be monitored very closely on two continents, through a video communications network linking Liberty Island, Manhattan, and Paris. Portable video cameras at the site will allow workers to take pictures anywhere inside or outside the statue. Thierry Despont describes their use: “I would get a phone call from the statue that says, ‘We’re sending you a photograph and want you to look at it,’ so I would turn on my receiver and the image would pick up. We will have the same thing in Paris and at Hayden’s office and other places, and we could get on a conference call and all be interacting at once. On top of that, you also have a printer, where you push a button and get a black-and-white copy of whatever’s on your screen. And in Paris they will have another video camera. It will not all be instant, but in five minutes we can transmit an image to Paris, be on the phone and talking to them, get immediately their verbal comments on the image we’re all looking at, and if needed they can get a hard copy, make notations, produce a new image, and send us that. It sounds a little bit like science fiction, but once you’ve seen it, you say, ‘Yes. Why doesn’t everybody have that?‘”

It seems ironic that with all the work being done there will be so little visible change to the statue’s exterior. But that fact is testimony both to the cautiousness of the restoration team and, even more, to the beautiful health of Liberty’s aging copper skin. Liberty’s head has tilted about six inches toward her right arm, settling comfortably and securely into a position that it will be allowed to keep. Unfortunately one of her crown spikes has rubbed up against that arm, denting and threatening to pierce the skin. But only the most gingerly nudging will be done. “We will change the position of the spike a few millimeters,” says Grandjean. “And we may depress the copper at the point of contact to add a slight distance.”

 

Some small dimples on the skin caused when saddles pulled out may be hammered flat with rubber mallets. If so, workers will always be on both sides of the skin at once, communicating by radio. As for dirt on the skin’s exterior, says Despont, “there are all sorts of black marks and discolorations that we intend to take a close look at—until the scaffold was up we weren’t able to. We think we’d like to be able to remove some of the black tar streaks that have leaked through the plate joints, but the one thing we know is that under no circumstances do we want to do anything to the patina. It has weathered very well and the copper has not softened. It is very good copper and was allowed to age in a much less acid environment than today’s.”

Landsman adds, “We don’t want to make her look like a twenty-one-yearold again. She’s ninety-eight years old and there’s some dignity there. ”