Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Eiffel on the Hudson 2

Providence, February 20, 2013

Have meaning, will travel.

Isn't it strange that a number of monuments had to travel long distances, sometimes across oceans and continents, to reach their eventual destinations?  And we're talking about large things, sometimes enormous.  Just think about the Luxor Obelisk at the Place de la Concorde coming all the way from Egypt or the St. Mark's Horses plundered from Constantinople.

For the first decade of its life, the Statue of Liberty had a peripatetic existence.  Or at least parts of it did.  In 1876 Liberty's right arm with its torch could be seen in Philadelphia, at the Centennial Exposition, and shortly after in New York's Madison Square Park.  Two years later her head was on display in Paris, at the 1878 World's Fair.  And the whole thing didn't reach New York Harbor until the summer of 1885.

When the Statue of Liberty finally got home, the location was rather peculiar for an urban monument, not in the middle of the city but outside, away from everyday life.  Not that there aren't precedents for that, but it's mostly lighthouses and fortifications, structures whose locations are dictated by necessity.  The choice of Bedloe's Island (the site of Fort Hood in fact) placed the monument more as a reference--as a distant point, more omnipresent than focal--than as what someone like Kevin Lynch would call a landmark.

It was the sculptor, Frédéric Bartholdi, who chose the location for the statue, not surprising when you learn that in the previous decade he had worked for the Egyptian ruler Isma'il Pasha on the project of an enormous lighthouse at the northern entrance of the Suez Canal.  Still, the location didn't create as much of a problem for the sculptor as for the engineer, whose structure had to hold in place large sheets of thin copper exposed to the winds of the harbor and the heat of the sun.  Yes, from an environmental point of view you could say that the Statue of Liberty is as much Eiffel's as Bartholdi's.

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