Most folks believe the Statue of Liberty was a gift from France to the United States, but Elizabeth Mitchell, in pursuit of researching another topic, came across some diaries of sculptor Frédéric August Bartholdi and learned the true story behind the statue’s creation. She tells Show Daily, “He originally pitched the idea to Egypt for the Suez Canal. The deal fell through, and he needed to find a new place to purchase the statue, so Bartholdi came here not really enamored of America, but thought this was a place that might go for a project that would be grandiose.” In Liberty’s Torch: The Great Adventure to Build the Statue of Liberty (Atlantic Monthly, July) the author traces the circuitous route of one of our most famous American icons from its creative origins in a story packed with colorful characters and convoluted behind-the-scenes machinations.
One of the unknown facts the author came across was Bartholdi’s interest in making an arrangement for the statue with Vaux and Olmstead, who were designing Central Park. She notes, “At that point the tallest building projected [near the park] was the Dakota, and the big toe of the Statue of Liberty—on its pedestal—would have been at the height of the Dakota, so you can imagine how freakish it would have been there.”
Another detail was the sculptor’s subterfuge in getting Lady Liberty made. Mitchell explains, “He convinced the French that the Americans really wanted it, and convinced the Americans that the French were all set to build it, but in fact when he came over here only a handful of men were even aware that he wanted to make this statue.” The author goes on, “There was this one moment when the statue was completed, standing in the streets in France, about to be shipped to America, but nothing had been done to finance the pedestal. It basically was homeless, and that’s where Joseph Pulitzer stepped in.”
Pulitzer, who’d recently purchased the nearly defunct New York World, promised to publish the names of any person who contributed to the statue’s pedestal, even if it was just a penny. “People donated money just to see their names in the paper, so he rapidly built up circulation to the point where, within eight months, rival newspapers were taking ads out in his paper to sell their papers.”
Commenting on her first trip to BEA, Mitchell says, “I volunteer to get books to schools that don’t have libraries. Kids are crazy for books—they jump up and down when you give them a book. It’s nice to see the industry has these moments to celebrate the fact that books are going to live on.” The author signs galleys of her book today at the Grove/Atlantic booth (1321) at 3 p.m.