On This Date in History: On America’s centennial in 1876, the French promised to give to the United States a great statue in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Part of the deal was that the Americans would be responsible for the base and the French would take care of the statue. Trouble was, both sides were short of money. The French didn’t finish constuction of the statue until 1884 and the Americans didn’t get done with the base until April 1885. With the base complete, the French shipped that statue across the Atlantic to New York. But it was too big to send over in tact, so it had to be divided into 350 sections that were placed in 214 crates. Finally, on this date in 1885. Lady Liberty arrived in New York City, ableit in 350 pieces.
Now, the statue was designed to have copper sheeting of 3/32 of an inch thick or about the same as two pennies. With a height of 151′ 11′ feet from the base to the top of the torch, that amount of copper weighed in at about 31 tons. That created a structurol problem in that some sort of system would need to be built to support such weight. So, the sculptor, Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, needed engineering help to figure out how to build such a colossus.
He got the help of Eugene-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Ducand Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel (Eiffel of Eiffel Tower Fame) to design and build the superstructure. Eiffel was one of the top engineers of the day who had experience with steel superstructures and he came up with a steel skeleton that weighed about 125 tons. It seems pretty remarkable that in the 1880’s it was technologically feasable to construct such a structure and its no wonder it took so long to build. Well, with 156 tons of steel and copper, the base had to be an extremely solid foundation. The site selected is now known as Liberty Island which is essentially a small chunk of granite in New York Harbor. The island had been the site for Fort Wood which featured a star shaped outer wall. The fort had been built in 1811 and served as a defense for the harbor during the War of 1812. It was decided to place the statue within the confines of the fort. The site seemed perfect though, even with such a solid footing, 27,000 tons of concrete was poured to create the base for the great statue. From the foundation of the pedestal to the tip of the torch, the complete statue stands 305′ 6″.
An American Minister ended his prayer at the dedication ceremony by saying in part: “God grant that it [the Statue] may stand until the end of time as an emblem of imperishable sympathy and affection between the Republics of France and the United States.” So far, it has needed a little help to withstand the test of time. With the statue in a harbor that is directly adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean, the copper and steel is under constant assault from the salt water. Also, New York can be subject to great temperature extremes in a given year. Winter time temperatures might fall below zero and afternoons in the summer may reach 100 degrees. The copper on the statue expands and contracts with the variation in temperature to such a degree that metal stress fatigue is a debilitating factor. Then there is the wind. The structure can handle the wind as the flexibility of the steel and copper allow it to sway. In a 50 mph wind the statue sways 3 inches with the torch having as much as a 6 inch flux. But, the metal fatigue and erosion factors are not something that can be overcome through engineering. So, in 1937 and 1984 the Statue of Liberty (more facts) was closed for two years for restoration. Lady Liberty has been able to stand tall in all sorts of weather and she has had a couple of makeovers to insure that she keeps her posture. But, a man made event brought her much distress.
Not far from Liberty Island was another Island known as Black Tom Island. The island was between New Jersey and Liberty Island and gained its moniker from the legend that an African American named Tom once resided there. Now, at the outset of World War I, American munition manufacturers could sell their goods to anyone but the British established a pretty effective blockade of Germany in 1915 and so England was really the only beneficiary of America’s industrial capability. The Lehigh Valley Railroad built a causeway from the mainland to the island as a terminal for its rail line to docks. Toward the end of the 19th century, the railroad filled in the harbor to turn the island into a peninsula. The peninsula became utilized as a munitions depot. Since the munitions by 1916 were mainly heading to England, it made an inviting target for German sabatuers. On July 30, 1916 fires were set on railroad cars that resulted in a series of tremendous explosions.
The initial blast is estimated to have been such to register a 5.0 to 5.5 on the richter scale. It was felt as far away as Philadelphia. Window 25 miles away were broken, including thousands in Manhattan. The Brooklyn Bridge shook, Jersey City’s city hall had its outer walls cracked and people in Maryland were awakened by the sound of what they thought was an earthquake. Lady Liberty stood tall but took some flak. Over a mile away, the Jersey Journal building was penetrated by flying debris and the much closer Statue of Liberty took fragments in her skirt, her outstretched arm and the torch. Bolts were popped out of the arm and the entire statue was closed for a few weeks. When it reopened, the torch was closed to the public and has not been accesable to the public ever since. However, it was still able to continue the functionality of the statue which is that of a lighthouse. As a direct result of the Black Tom Explosion, the United States passed the Espionage Act of 1917, After the war, the Lehigh Valley Railroad was able to secure $50 million in compensation from the German government for damages resulting from the Black Tom Explosion. The final payment was received in 1979.
Weather Bottom Line: Saturday morning was a surprise. Don’t blame the TV folks. The NAM had a short in the afternoon bringing rain but nothing like the racket we had. There was a bit of an appendage that extended down from a shortwave moving through well to our North but all of the models cut that off just south of Indianapolis and really only advertised an outside shot at some showers. They were wrong. It was not the cold front though. It should stay to our North and the general storm track still should be farther north than last week when we had a similar pattern. But, Saturday morning’s activity does illustrate the difficulty in trying to time or place these little disturbances. I think at least one of the stations was making it sound like the world was coming to an end….it was thunderstorm activity and, in general, if we get more of that stuff, it should be similar. However, if you do find yourself in some stuff going on in the afternoon or evening, then the prospects of some rough stuff will be elevated as late day heating should take us to the low to maybe mid 90’s on Sunday and there will be plenty of humidity.