The public unveiling of the Statue of Liberty took place at 3 p.m. on February 11, 1951, a cold Sunday during the Boy Scouts’ birthday week.
The Lady’s replica was erected atop Chimborazo Hill in Richmond’s East End thanks to a catalyst for commemorations and a public display of patriotism.
The “Strengthen the Arm of Freedom” campaign coincided with the Boy Scouts of America’s 40th anniversary in 1949. At that time, JP “Jack” Whitaker was president of his automotive battery cable company, as well as commissioner of the Boy Scouts of America. Kansas. The City Regional Council was considering how best to mark the BSA’s anniversary and demonstrate the nation’s best values.
Tensions between the West, the communist Soviet Union and China were known as the Cold War. A proxy conflict erupted between the two sides in 1950 when Communist-backed North Korea invaded Western-backed South Korea. The United Nations took steps to avoid an escalation. President Harry Truman viewed the country’s role as “police action”.
At the time of the ‘Strengthen the Freedom Arm’ effort, the undeclared war in Korea made headlines, accompanied by grim photographs of weary, snow-covered soldiers: ‘Richmond Marine writes home about ‘retirement the more combative » »; “Allied patrols return to Seoul and find that the Red Chinese have fled”; and “(The United Nations) Guns Pound Burning City.” Meanwhile, near Las Vegas, atomic bomb tests were underway and detectors detected radioactive snow in Troy, New York.
Against this historical backdrop, Whitaker chose to seed the grounds with replicas of the Statue of Liberty. The Friedley-Voshardt Co. of Chicago, a manufacturer of metal ceiling coverings, supplied the 290 pounds of sheet copper statue parts. He also created a method for assembling the 42 stamped copper sheets around the interior supports to support facsimiles of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s “Liberty Enlightening the World”, aka the Statue of Liberty. The copper was about the thickness of half a dollar.
The statues were installed from 1949 to 1952 in 39 states, as well as several US possessions and territories.
George P. Freeman, who was executive director of the Robert E. Lee Boy Scouts Council in 1951, recalled in a 1978 newspaper article that downtown clothier Berry-Burk met the cost of about $1,000 $ for shipping the $350 Liberty kit to Richmond. The cost of the packed materials was covered by a penny donated by each member of the Richmond Scouts.
The kit included instructions for building a scaled-down version of the New York City pedestal and 11-pointed island base, which was the responsibility of the scouts. The Liberty of Richmond sits on a base of cobblestones from city streets.
In the current tradition of placing statues in Richmond, while the city administration approved this depiction of Liberty, disagreement arose over its location. Freeman petitioned the city council to install the statue in the state capitol, but such approval was beyond the council’s authority. Council members then suggested the Chimborazo site, although the American Legion wanted it near the Robert E. Lee Bridge on Belvidere Street. Offering a panoramic view, the Chimborazo prevailed.
The press touted an immense dedication and predicted 3,000 spectators, but the intense cold may have helped reduce the crowd to a total of “hundreds”. Despite the temperatures, the warm John Marshall High School Band performed, as did the Drum and Bugle Corps of Boy Scout Troop 85. The patriotic tunes served as prologues to officials and speeches. In the base were placed scrolls bearing the names of the boys who contributed to the project. Most of the other 145 council units had to insert the roll call of their members through a small opening left in the base.
The pedestal read, “With the faith and courage of their ancestors who made possible the freedom of the United States, the Boy Scouts of America dedicates this copy of the Statue of Liberty as a token of eternal faithfulness and loyalty. »
It was a beautiful sentiment, but not quite the same message as the one from New York, written by American Jewish poet and political activist Emma Lazarus, whose sonnet “The New Colossus” includes the famous phrase “Give me your fatigue, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe freely.
Over the decades, the brilliant copper sheen of the Chimborazo Liberty has faded. BBs and bullets scarred the figure, and vandals ripped off the tips of his crown.
Jeff Jeffress of the Lee Council has taken notice of the situation. Active with the BSA for most of his life and an Eagle Scout, he had not been involved in the original unveiling, but was determined to fix Lady Liberty. He and neighbors at Chimborazo Park have started a fundraiser for the restoration.
Jeffress, 82 when Richmond magazine spoke to him in 1996, described offers of help from volunteers. But when Jeffress approached town with the plans, he said he ran into a problem. He recalled how, “typical of government activity, they ended up appropriating $30,000 for something we were going to do for next to nothing and drug their feet for a year. We would have done it a year earlier and for less.
Greek immigrant and Cincinnati founder Eleftherios (meaning “freedom”) Karkadoulias took a month to freshen up Lady Liberty. She returned brilliantly to Chimborazo for 1986’s Glorious Fourth.
The Berlin Wall fell, the Soviet Union dissolved, and the Cold War turned into an anxious time of foreign and domestic dangers. The Richmond Liberty withstood the onslaught of bad weather and hooligans.
The Liberties dispersed throughout the country suffered the same fate. In the early 1990s, Heritage Preservation and the American Art Museum at the Smithsonian Institution partnered on a Save Outdoor Sculptures project that helped restore several statues. In most cases, however, Lady Liberty has captured the attention of her constituents, such as in 2019, when the 1708 Gallery chose Chimborazo as the site for its annual InLight event and artist Sandy Williams IV chose as a contribution ” The arm of freedom”.
Before and during the exhibition, Williams and his assistants undertook a thorough cleaning of the statue and the site. The scaffolding surrounding Liberty showed restoration and protection, but several passers-by misunderstood Williams’ work. Virginia Commonwealth University’s VCUArts blog noted his surprise at accusations of damaging the statue and insults that he was an “ignorant”. Williams observed that people might prefer vintage statues to stand alone. Even the original Statue of Liberty is oxidized green.
“There’s an attachment to patinas,” Williams said. “It’s a collection of time that tells you how long something has dominated that space. Cleaning it felt like I was pressing the reset button on this statue.
Portions of this column appeared in the July 1996 issue of Richmond review.