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Arts & Culture

The Statue Of Liberty's (Very) Little Sister Is Coming To Town

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Roughly 135 years ago, France gifted the Statue of Liberty to the United States. Now, the statue's little sister has arrived to spend Independence Day aside her monumental sibling. Eleanor Beardsley reports from the statue's point of departure in Paris, and Jeff Lunden greets her arrival on New York's Ellis Island.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUM ROLL)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: In early June, the 9 1/2-foot tall bronze statue was lifted by crane from its home in front of a museum in central Paris to begin its trip to New York. Cast just 10 years ago, she will join her older and larger sister, who's made of copper and stands with pedestal 305 feet tall. Both statues were cast from the original plaster model sculpted by Auguste Bartholdi that is part of the Science Museum's permanent collection. Marie Laure Estignard is curator and director of the Musee des Arts et Metiers.

MARIE LAURE ESTIGNARD: You can see all the way Bartholdi worked with all these details. You can see that it's very handmade.

BEARDSLEY: Painted dark, greenish brown to look like bronze, this plaster Statue of Liberty also stands atop a pedestal. Its carved wooden base is the prow of a ship.

ESTIGNARD: When you approach the base, you can see it's like a boat. Well, you have to board in the statue.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOOTSTEPS)

BEARDSLEY: Which means stepping up inside the base. Once there, you look through a window to see a tiny model of New York Harbor with the Statue of Liberty as if you were arriving by boat.

ESTIGNARD: I'm now a passenger, a passenger arriving in Europe. I see Bedloe Island and what is supposed to be the Statue of Liberty.

BEARDSLEY: But Estignard says the diorama was constructed years before the statue was built and given to the U.S. in 1885. She says Bartholdi used his model to attract funding from wealthy French and American donors. She calls it a 19th-century crowdfunding operation.

ESTIGNARD: This is very marketing operation (ph) (laughter). So he was very clever to imagine this.

BEARDSLEY: Bartholdi's statue was built in Paris, disassembled and shipped to New York in 350 pieces. Once there, it's copper plates were draped over a steel frame structure made by Bartholdi's colleague, a certain Gustave Eiffel, who was also building a tower in Paris. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

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JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: I'm Jeff Lunden in New York. A few weeks later, on Ellis Island, in full view of the Statue of Liberty, a team of workers in reflective vests hoists the half-ton little sister onto her temporary spot before it moves to the French ambassador's residence in Washington, D.C. Bartholdi's statue was conceived at the end of the Civil War as a symbol of emancipation, says Ambassador Philippe Etienne, but has taken on many meanings since then.

PHILIPPE ETIENNE: Of course, a friendship between two peoples, French and American; of course, the core value of freedom as a message of liberty; but also a lot of different messages linked with immigration, of course, and hospitality. And finally, the most important meaning of these statues is the promise of opportunities to all our citizens.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

LUNDEN: And before the little sister was even installed, a small group of protesters gathered nearby. One of them quoted the famous Emma Lazarus poem on the big sister's pedestal. Jamie Bower (ph) of Rise and Resist - New York City explained.

JAMIE BOWER: We like the message of the Statue of Liberty, and we support that message. But we feel that the United States is not living up to that message.

LUNDEN: Her group is demanding the Biden administration reverse a Trump-era policy that closed the southern border, making it harder for people to seek asylum. The protesters were asked to peacefully disperse because festivities were planned.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Singing in non-English language).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Singing) ...And the home of the brave.

LUNDEN: A parade of diplomats, politicians and business people spoke to an invited audience inside because of a driving rain outside. Jesse Brackenbury, president of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, reminded the audience...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JESSE BRACKENBURY: It was nearly 135 years ago on another rainy day in New York Harbor that Liberty Enlightening the World was unveiled.

LUNDEN: And as if on cue, when the audience left the auditorium for a champagne toast at the statue's unveiling, the sun came out.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING, CLAPPING)

LUNDEN: For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.