Welcome to one of my annual installments of sprite’s Virtual Advent Tour.
I typically go for December 8th because it’s the anniversary of the murder of John Lennon, one of my musical heroes. Yes, it’s morbid – as is much of Christmas lore, if you think about it. But John loved his time in New York City where he could live mostly unbothered by the public and just be a person. After the Beatlemania reality it must’ve been a breath of fresh air.
He really embraced his NYC life, even being a tourist in his adopted hometown. One of his pals in NYC was Bob Gruen, a photographer of some renown, and the photos Gruen took of Lennon are some of the most iconic of his 1970s life.
John Lennon at Statue of Liberty, 30 October 1974. Photo by Bob Gruen – all rights reserved by Mr. Gruen.
The object in the background of this shot is, in fact, possibly the largest Christmas gift ever given: the Statue of Liberty.
Yes, in many respects the wonderful copper statue that lives in New York’s harbor was a Christmas gift! While likely an apocryphal storty, it’s said that around Christmas of 1865 French jurist and historian Édouard de Laboulaye, in recognition of the United States’ commitment to democracy, its coming centennial, and recognition of the recently-freed U.S. slaves, proposed a gift of a grand statue symbolizing liberty, equality, and freedom to be given the U.S. The timing was good and the gift could be seen as acknowledgement that the United States had worked toward being a free, democratic country – win-win, right?
Unfortunately for these plans, the Franco-Prussian War delayed construction and delivery of the statue. After the war’s conclusion in 1871 the French government agreed to fund the construction of the statue if the U.S. provided its location and pedestal. The statue’s form was designed by sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (in the image of Libertas, the Roman goddess of liberty) with a sub-structure designed by Gustave Eiffel, he of that one structure in Paris.
Given the delayed construction the only bit of Lady Liberty that was ready for the U.S. centennial was the right arm and torch, which were proudly displayed at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, then at Madison Square Park from then until 1882. Fundraising for the construction of the statue’s pedestal was also beset with problems, work almost being stopped by 1885. Only the intervention of Joseph Pulitzer (he of the now-famous prize and then the publisher of the New York World) kept pedestal construction alive via a small-donor drive that raised over 120,000 contributions, mostly of one dollar or less ($33 or less adjusted for modern dollar values).
Eventually the statue arrived in pieces from France, was assembled on the now-finished pedestal on Bedloe’s Island, and was dedicated on October 28, 1886. What followed was New York City’s first-ever ticker tape parade – something that is commonplace now, but then was very new.
Is this a bit of a stretch of a Christmas story? Perhaps. But hey: there are myriad Statue of Liberty tree ornaments available these days. Same with Photoshopped pics of the statue festooned with holiday baubles, trees, and costumes. And many a holiday film has featured the statue prominently in its run (e.g. Elf, The Santa Clause).
But I really wanted to get my John Lennon reference into something without resorting to the usual musical offering.
So I’ll pop in the latest – and likely last – new Beatles song as a parting gift. “Now And Then” is a helluva gift from John, Paul, George, and Ringo.
I’ll be back next week with another Virtual Advent thingamajig!