2013-02-08 / Columnists

A Look at History

Daughter Liberty Has Raised Her Torch Over Island’s Harbor Since 1950

If the statue in New York Harbor is “Lady Liberty,” then Mackinac Island is the home of Daughter Liberty. The eight-foottall miniature replica of Frederic Bartholdi’s “Statue of Liberty” was given to Mackinac Island by Michigan Boy Scouts in 1950. Like the much bigger statue of the East Coast, it is hollow and made out of sheets of copper.

The New York Statue of Liberty was 100 years old in 1986, and was extensively refitted and restored for its centennial. Our Mackinac statue is not yet 100 years old, but by the summer of 2012, it was already showing its age; the statue should have a copper headpiece with rays spiking out in all directions, but she was de-crowned long ago, and although the star-shaped flowerbed at the statue’s base was a good place for geraniums and mari- golds, the mortar in the splitstone flower bed wall and in the statue’s pedestal was getting old and crumbly. Longtime Islanders Clark Bloswick and Paul Wandrie, Sr., our American Legion Post commander, who have been towers of strength for the Island’s patriotic recognition efforts, took the lead in November 2012 to get the statue removed and shipped to a Lower Peninsula bronze foundry for repairs. The restoration will cost a bit more than $60,000.

At right: Restoration expert Giorgio Gikas poses with the Statue of Liberty replica he is restoring in Detroit this winter at his business, the Center for Conservation. (File photograph) At right: Restoration expert Giorgio Gikas poses with the Statue of Liberty replica he is restoring in Detroit this winter at his business, the Center for Conservation. (File photograph) Mackinac Island Liberty, like the other fittings of the Yacht Dock and adjacent Marquette Park, sits on land that belongs to the people of Michigan. The park and shoreline were part of the Fort Mackinac military reservation, and were given to Mackinac Island State Park when the soldiers left in 1895. In that year, the New York Statue of Liberty was only nine years old, and was considered not only beautiful, but also a marvel of engineering – there were few 150-foot-tall statues in those days.

The very distant ancestor of our copper statue once faced a harbor on the opposite side of the world. More than 300 years before the beginning of the Christian era, the pagan island of Rhodes, in Greece, had won a decisive military victory over a dangerous enemy king. The island’s leaders needed a lighthouse to mark a pathway to their harbor; in the wake of their victory, they had the means to build one, and they decided in 304 BC to raise what would be the most imposing light tower in all Greece, a bronze statue of the island’s god “Helios,” the Sun.

Helios became so famous that he was called the “Colossus of Rhodes,” and descriptions of him were written down as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was fortunate that this textual data was saved, because as a result of earthquakes and the “Fall of the Roman Empire,” the pagan statue was damaged beyond repair and its pieces hauled away to the scrap furnace; today, not a trace of the ancient statue remains. When it came time to build a new, female “Lady Liberty” in New York, however, the French sculptor Bartholdi based his Lady partly on his own mother (who served as a model), and partly on these textual descriptions of what the Colossus of Rhodes had once looked like. As a result, the New York Liberty got to wear seven rays of sunlight on her cap; and when similar rays are refitted onto our Statue of Liberty, they will be very distantly descended from this longago Greek statue of the Sun.

During World War II, the New York statue was a worldwide symbol of freedom – and was also, for some American men, the last sight they saw of the land of their birth, as the U.S. Army used ocean-liner troopships, not planes, to carry most of its men eastward to the hell of D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge. After the war, patriotic Boy Scout leaders, who had sold War Stamps and helped gather rubber and metal scrap for the duration of the conflict, tried to set a seal on their work by creating a series of local fundraising drives throughout the United States. This nationwide campaign, “Strengthen the Arm of Liberty,” mobilized enough resources to raise approximately 200 smaller statues, including our Island Liberty. Mackinac Island’s status, since 1929, as a summer host place for the Boy Scouts of Michigan, made the Island’s harbor a natural place to set up the only Scouting Liberty known to have been erected in the Great Lakes state. As Mackinac Islanders prepared for observances to honor the veterans of World War II, the replica Statue of Liberty was raised at the head of the Yacht Dock on Memorial Day Sunday, 1950.

Sheet copper is durable, but does not last forever; try to find a penny from the 1950s in your pocket. Bronze smith Giorgio Gikas is renovating our Island statue right now in his foundry near Detroit. A Boy Scout troop based in Wyoming has set up a Web site for admirers of these statues to use to find the “Strengthen the Arm” statues that remain, and to set forth their current locations for “way finders” to locate. Our Statue of Liberty renovation project needs the help of everyone who likes or loves this statue. The Island’s American Legion Post 299 is overseeing this push. Some of its sister statues have moved around a bit as part of various relandscaping and restoration efforts in the cities and towns that erected them. Our Liberty is scheduled to move about 100 feet westward, and she will stand on a more central location on the harbor embankment. Somebody should let Wyoming know.

Return to top

Click here for digital edition
2013-02-08 digital edition