A bumpy dedication of the Statue of Liberty

Statueoflibertymoran1886On October 28, 1886, the city had scheduled a day of festivities for the official dedication of the Statue of Liberty.

Things mostly went off well, but not without plenty of hitches that turned the celebration into a comedy of errors.

First, there was the cold, miserable rain, which poured down on marchers during the morning parade from 57th Street to Madison Square Park to the Battery.

President Cleveland (a former governor of New York State) was to lead the parade and then watch from a reviewing stand at Worth Square—which he did, umbrella-less, with sheets of rain pouring down on him for two hours.


In the afternoon, after the city’s first-ever ticker-tape parade, an official dedication ceremony took place on what was once known as Bedloe’s Island—with thousands of New Yorkers watching from the Battery.

Interestingly, no regular citizens were allowed on the island, and few, if any, women were invited. A group of suffragists rowed out close, though, and held their own ceremony, hoping the day would come when women had the liberty to cast votes.


The 2,500 or so French and American dignitaries invited to the ceremony were treated to music, prayers, gun salutes, speeches, and finally, the unveiling of the copper-colored statue, which had been shrouded in a French flag.

The wet flag was lifted prematurely, however, in the middle of a speech by New York Senator William Evarts, cutting Evarts off.


After President Cleveland accepted the statue from France, a flotilla of ships began setting off alarms in celebration, drowning out the rest of the speeches.

The boats also released plumes of smoke, which along with the clouds and mist made it even harder for crowds on shore to see the copper-colored statue.

Statueofliberty1890sA huge fireworks display had to be cancelled that night because of the rain. And the actual lighting of the statue?

It didn’t go off well, mainly because no one could figure out how to light Lady Liberty properly—odd, as she was supposed to be an official lighthouse for New York Harbor.

Finally, on November 1, the city did a do-over of the fireworks and illumination. According to the New York Times, at least the phyrotechnics went of splendidly.

“Land and sea alike were teeming with glories. The vast fleet added not a little to the scene—the distant city with its million lights and flame-tipped spires was a sight to be remembered itself.”

“When the last rush of rockets from the island had scattered their showering gold and the wonted darkness settled again, the great figure grew brighter and huger and gleamed ghostly but beautiful, the new Anadyomene, Liberty rising from the sea.”

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4 Responses to “A bumpy dedication of the Statue of Liberty”

  1. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

    The cost of constructing the base to support the Statue of Liberty is of significance. The majority of the funds came from donations provided by school children. Newspapers authored editorials seeking coins to cover the project’s cost.

    I read loooong ago the late-BILL GAINES had an important and extensive collection relating to the statue. (BILL GAINES – as in the creator of ‘MAD MAGAZINE’.)

    A friend’s birthday was near and I needed a special gift. My friend was such a MAD MAG. collector, he even had a mint first edition! Sooo, I sent a rare, vintage calendar to Gaines that featured Lady Liberty in the Harbor on every page and requested an autograph for my pal. Gaines in return, sent a huge poster showing all the MAD artists and writers plus EACH had signed during a staff meeting!

    Thrillingly, Gaines’ s collection included items that had belonged or were created by the artist Bartholdi. (The face of the statue was supposed to have been the artist’s Mother.)

    Alas, today a copy of ‘the golden flame portion’ of the statue, sits atop the Alma Tunnel in Paris. It became an undesignated shrine to Princess Diana when she died due to an accident in the tunnel beneath it. Mourners adorned the Parisian flame replica with flowers, notes, candles, etc…

    One of the greatest photos (and my personal favorite of the statue) is of the workman standing on scaffolding during the mid-1980s rennovation. The hard-hatted worker is dangerously leaning forward, determined to kiss the forehead of the beloved statue. (Don’t we all wish we could do that too! )

  2. Timothy Grier Says:

    Interestingly, October 28 is also the day when the Arch in St. Louis was dedicated. The big 50th Anniversary happens next month.

  3. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

    Here is a St. Louis digress…

    The monument shape was inspired by the form a limp chain takes when it’s ends are held in someone’s hands; just take the shape and flip it upright! It is a parabolic curve.

    Architect / Designer Eero Saarinen is credited with having designed the structure along with a host of efforts many take for granted today, like: the pedestal table; tulip chairs; etc… His art-critic wife, Aline was on the TODAY SHOW as a reporter for several years. They were an amazing couple.

    I still have several golden coins the St. Louis Mayor A. J. Cervantes gave me from the 1964 Arch Dedication. (The formal name is: ‘THE JEFFERSON NATIONAL EXPANSION MEMORIALl’.)

    However, beautiful as the glorious, sweeping lines of THE ARCH are, it just isn’t as thrilling as witnessing THE STATUE OF LIBERTY for the first time.

  4. City Hall festooned with flags and finery to celebrate ‘Tunnel Day’ | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] triumphantly on the East River. When the Statue of Liberty was dedicated in October 1886, the first ticker-tape parade was held amid a day of […]

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