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Kate Walker here, keeping the light on Robbins Reef.

In 1886 before John died, the Statue of Liberty was erected on Bedloe’s Island, two miles northeast of Robbins Reef. Is the name ‘Eiffel’ familiar to you? French builder Gustave Eiffel’s iron framework had been anchored to steel I-beams within the concrete pedestal and assembled. We could sit on our balcony and watch the sections of skin being carefully attached to the frame. The pedestal was too narrow to erect scaffolding, so the workers dangled from ropes while installing the 350 different skin sections. They looked like ants crawling around on the copper panels.

The statue was bright copper color when it was new. Over the years I watched it turn green—the verdigris a natural patina formed when copper is weathered and exposed to air or seawater over a period of time.

Robbins Reef NY 2002 by JCC copy
Statue of Liberty and Robbins Reef Lighthouse. 2002 photo by Candace Clifford

French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, who designed the statue, had planned to put floodlights on the torch’s balcony to illuminate it, but a week before the dedication, the Army Corps of Engineers vetoed the proposal, fearing that ships’ pilots passing the statue would be blinded. Instead, Bartholdi cut portholes in the torch—which was covered with gold leaf—and placed the lights inside them. A power plant was installed on the island to light the torch and for other electrical needs.

The dedication ceremony was held on the afternoon of October 28, 1886, presided over by President Grover Cleveland. We couldn’t see the parade in Manhattan, but 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. The whole of New York Harbor was crowded with ships and boats flying flags and setting off fireworks. It was a splendid sight and very exciting to watch.

Weren’t we lucky to have a ring-side seat?

In the newspapers that a friend from Staten Island brings us once or twice a month, John read that the United States Lighthouse Board took over the Statue of Liberty in 1887, because the torch Liberty holds aloft was designed as a navigation beacon. The light wasn’t bright enough to be effective, however. Because it had proved useless as a lighthouse, it was placed under the War Department, which had a fort on the island, in 1901.

21 Dec 1902 - Times Picayune - Kate Walker loresInformation from National Park Service (1994). National Register of Historic Places, 1966–1994;;; and

Submitted August 4, 2017

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