This Day in History – October 28th, 1886

On the afternoon of October 28th, 1886, a ceremony of dedication was held for the Statue of Liberty. “President Grover Cleveland, the former New York governor, presided over the event. On the morning of the dedication, a parade was held in New York City; estimates of the number of people who watched it ranged from several hundred thousand to a million. President Cleveland headed the procession, then stood in the reviewing stand to see bands and marchers from across America. General Stone was the grand marshal of the parade.

The route began at Madison Square, once the venue for the arm, and proceeded to Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan by way of Fifth Avenue and Broadway, with a slight detour so the parade could pass in front of the World building on Park Row. As the parade passed the New York Stock Exchange, traders threw ticker tape from the windows, beginning the New York tradition of the ticker-tape parade.

The Statue of Liberty 1886

A nautical parade began at 12:45 p.m., and President Cleveland embarked on a yacht that took him across the harbor to Bedloe’s Island for the dedication. De Lesseps made the first speech, on behalf of the French committee, followed by the chairman of the New York committee, Senator William M. Evarts. A French flag draped across the statue’s face was to be lowered to unveil the statue at the close of Evarts’s speech, but Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the Italian-French sculptor who designed the statue, mistook a pause as the conclusion and let the flag fall prematurely. The ensuing cheers put an end to Evarts’s address.

President Cleveland spoke next, stating that the statue’s “stream of light shall pierce the darkness of ignorance and man’s oppression until Liberty enlightens the world”. Bartholdi, observed near the dais, was called upon to speak, but he refused. Orator Chauncey M. Depew concluded the speechmaking with a lengthy address.

Statue of Liberty 1900

No members of the general public were permitted on the island during the ceremonies, which were reserved entirely for dignitaries. The only females granted access were Bartholdi’s wife and de Lesseps’s granddaughter; officials stated that they feared women might be injured in the crush of people. The restriction offended area suffragists, who chartered a boat and got as close as they could to the island. The group’s leaders made speeches applauding the embodiment of Liberty as a woman and advocating women’s right to vote. A scheduled fireworks display was postponed until November 1st because of poor weather.

Shortly after the dedication, The Cleveland Gazette, an African American newspaper, suggested that the statue’s torch not be lit until the United States became a free nation “in reality”:

“Liberty enlightening the world,” indeed! The expression makes us sick. This government is a howling farce. It can not or rather does not protect its citizens within its own borders. Shove the Bartholdi statue, torch and all, into the ocean until the “liberty” of this country is such as to make it possible for an inoffensive and industrious colored man to earn a respectable living for himself and family, without being ku-kluxed, perhaps murdered, his daughter and wife outraged, and his property destroyed. The idea of the “liberty” of this country “enlightening the world,” or even Patagonia, is ridiculous in the extreme” (Wikipedia)

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