Liberty's Torch: The Great Adventure to Build the Statue of Liberty

Liberty's Torch: The Great Adventure to Build the Statue of Liberty

by Elizabeth Mitchell


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The Statue of Liberty has become one of the most recognizable monuments in the world: a symbol of freedom and the American Dream. But the story of the creation of the statue has been obscured by myth. In reality, she was the inspiration of one quixotic French sculptor hungry for fame and adoration.

Inspired by descriptions of the Colossus of Rhodes, the young Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi first envisioned building a monumental statue of a slave woman holding a lamp that would serve as a lighthouse for Ferdinand de Lesseps’s proposed Suez Canal. But after he failed to win this commission, and in the chaotic wake of the Franco-Prussian War, Bartholdi set off for America, where he saw the perfect site for his statue: Bedloe’s Island in New York Harbor. Before long, he was organizing the construction of a massive copper woman in a Paris workshop. Through spectacular displays of the statue’s arm and torch in Philadelphia at the 1876 World’s Fair, and the statue’s head at the 1878 Paris Exhibition, along with other creative fundraising efforts, Bartholdi himself collected almost all of the money required to build the statue. Meanwhile, he brought luminaries including Gustave Eiffel, Victor Hugo, Ulysses S. Grant, Joseph Pulitzer, and Emma Lazarus into his scheme. Moving from the black waters of the Nile to the revolution-torn boulevards of Paris, to the muddy streets of New York, Liberty's Torch tells the story of an artist, entrepreneur and inventor who fought against all odds to create this wonder of the modern world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802123794
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 07/14/2015
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 1,248,874
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Elizabeth Mitchell is an editor, journalist, and author. She is the author of two nonfiction books: Three Strides Before the Wire: The Dark and Beautiful World of Horse Racing, and W: Revenge of the Bush Dynasty.

Read an Excerpt


At three in the morning on Wednesday, June 21, 1871, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi made his way up to the deck of the Pereire, hoping to catch his first glimpse of America. The weather had favored the sculptor’s voyage from France, and this night proved no exception. A gentle mist covered the ocean as he tried in vain to spot the beam of a lighthouse glowing from the new world.

After eleven days at sea, Bartholdi had grown weary of what he called in a letter to his mother his “long sojourn in the world of fish.” The Pereire had been eerily empty, with only forty passengers on a ship meant to carry three hundred. He passed his days playing chess and watching the heaving log that measured the ship’s speed. “I practice my English on several Americans who are on board. I learn phrases and walk the deck alone mumbling them, as a parish priest recites his breviary.”

These onboard incantations were meant to prepare Bartholdi for the greatest challenge of his career. The thirty-six-year-old artist intended to convince a nation he had never visited before to build a colossus. This was his singular vision, conceived in his own imagination, and designed by his own hand. The largest statue ever built. The sky turned pink, the Pereire cut farther west through the waves, and before long Bartholdi and his fellow passengers caught the first sight of land and a vast harbor. He described the moment in his letter: “A multitude of little sails seemed to skim the water, our fellow travelers pointed out a cloud of smoke at the farther end of a bay—and it was New York!”

Table of Contents

Prologue ix

Book 1 The Idea

1 Our Hero Emerges from the Clay 3

2 Bartholdi Down the Black Nile 23

3 The Khedive Refuses 33

4 War and Garibaldi 57

5 Paris in Rubble 75

Book 2 The Gamble

6 America, the Bewildering 85

7 The Workshop of the Giant Hand 105

8 Making a Spectacle 129

9 Eiffel Props the Giantess 145

10 The Engineer and the Newspaperman 157

11 The Blessing 175

12 Liberty Sets Sail 189

13 Pulitzer's Army and Other Helpers 203

Book 3 The Triumpb

14 Liberty Unveiled 231

Epilogue 253

Acknowledgments 273

Notes 279

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