The Statue of Liberty’s original torch, which was replaced with a replica in Lady Liberty’s hand in 1985, was moved across Liberty Island to its new home yesterday in preparation for the opening of the Statue of Liberty Museum. It had been on display inside the statue’s pedestal, accessible only to ticketed guests. The new museum will be open to all visitors to the island, not just those who climb the pedestal and statue.
Transporting the delicate torch was an important step in building the museum, which is slated to open in May as part of a $100 million project to upgrade the island. “The issue here is it’s a precious treasure for our country,” Douglas Phelps, president of the Phelps Construction Group, which is building the FX Collaborative-designed museum, told the New York Times. “This is not the most difficult thing we’ve ever moved. But certainly it’s the most important.”
Moving the 16-foot-tall, 3,600-pound torch required the use of a special hydraulically stabilized transporter vehicle. The sculpture had to be dismantled, the flamed removed from its base, in order to squeeze it through the doors at the statue’s base. It is expected to be the centerpiece of the 26,000-square-foot museum, where it will be on display in the Inspiration Gallery.
Over the years, the copper flame had been substantially altered in order to better light the torch. Initial efforts, which involved punching holes in the flame so it could be illuminated from within, had underwhelming results. So in 1916, sculptor Gutzon Borglum—the creator of Mount Rushmore—added amber glass panels to the design. But the window panes leaked, causing damage to the statue’s arm and ultimately necessitating its replacement.
The new torch replicated sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s original design, and even added 24-carat gold leaf gilding, an element of the artist’s vision that had been too expensive to execute at the time. In the decades since, the original torch has been on display in the museum inside the statue’s pedestal.
The torch was actually the first portion of the Statue of Liberty to arrive in New York after being shipped piecemeal across the ocean from France. After debuting at the World’s Fair in Philadelphia in 1876, it went on display in Madison Square Park as part of an effort to raise money to build a pedestal for the statue.
The arm and torch were closed to visitors in 1916 after German spies launched shrapnel into the statue as the result of an attack targeting the nearby Black Tom munitions depot. Black Tom Island has since become part of Liberty Island thanks to landfill expansion projects. Entering the torch requires climbing a 40-foot ladder, accessible only to staff.
“We’re thrilled to be able to give all guests to Liberty Island the opportunity to see this unparalleled piece of American and world history firsthand, whether from within or outside of the museum,” Briganti told Curbed NY.
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