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Masonry and the Statue of Liberty
"MASONRY AND THE STATUE OF LIBERTY"
By R. W. Robert C. Singer
Deputy Grand Master Grand Lodge, F. & A.M., New York
Masons everywhere can take special pride in
the part our great Fraternity played in the crea-
tion and erection, nearly 100 years ago, of the
most unique symbol of freedom and oppor-
tunity, the Statue of Liberty.
In the summer of 1865, a group of Fren-
chmen were gathered together one evening at
the home of the well-known author, Edouard
Rene de Laboulaye, in the village of Glavingny,
a suburb of Paris. Among those present were
Oscar and Edmond de Lafayette, grandsons of
the Marquis d' Lafayette, Masonic brother of
George Washington Henri Martin, the noted
historian and French Mason and a young artist
from Colmar in French (later German) Alsace
by the name of Frederic Auguste Bartholdi,
who at the time was engaged in making a bust
of Laboulaye, called by one biographer
"America's most ardent admirer in France."
Laboulaye told the group that it would be a
splendid gesture on the part of all liberty-loving
Frenchmen to acknowledge their friendship to
America by presenting a fitting memorial.
(Some have speculated that he had a second
motive in mindto call attention to the con-
trast between the American way of life with its
freedoms and that of the French under the
repressive Second Empire.)
The 31-year-old Bartholdi became imbued
with the idea and also the challenge it presented
to his artistic talent. But the proposal lay dor-
mant during the autocratic rule of Napoleon III
and throughout the destructive years of the
In 1871, Laboulaye, the Brother Lafayette
with their cousin, the Marquis de Noailles, and
the Marquis de Rochambeau, along with Henri
Martin, revived the plan for the as yet unnamed
memorial. They suggested that Bartholdi visit
America and make arrangements for the
presentation of the monument on July 4, 1876,
the Centenary of the Declaration of In-
Armed with letters of introduction and full
of high hopes, Bartholdi sailed for America,
although it is said that he did not have even a
rough drawing of the proposed monument.
Two weeks later, while standing on the deck of
the ship Pereire steaming up Lower New York
Bay, he caught a vision of a magnificent god-
dess holding aloft a torch in one hand and
welcoming all visitors to the land of freedom
Quickly obtaining paper and brush, Bar-
tholdi sketched in water-color the idea of the
Statue of Liberty substantially as it appears to-
day. It was his thought to have this symbolic
structure tower over the steeple of Trinity
Church, then the tallest building on the New
York skyline. He wrote to Laboulaye, "these
outlines may well aim beyond the mere monu-
ment at a work of great moral value."
Bartholdi returned to France in 1874 and
soon thereafter the Franco-American Union
was established in Paris to raise funds for the
Statue of "Liberty Enlightening the World."
That same year, Bartholdi began his work at
the Parisian firm of Gaget, Gauthier & Cie. His
model for the face of the "Goddess of Liberty"
was his mother, Charlotte Beysser Bartholdi.
First, he made a four-foot clay miniature, then
a nine-foot cast in plaster, and then propor-
tionately enlarged each section four times,
making as many as nine thousand
measurements with each increase in size.
The main structural framework of four
huge steel supports was specially designed by
Gustave Eiffel, who later gained world-wide
fame as a result of the 984-foot tower he
created for the Paris Exposition in 1889.
Under the leadership of Henri Martin, and
inspired perhaps by the fact that so many of the
sponsors of the Franco-American Union were
members of the Masonic Fraternity, a cam-
paign netting one million francs was completed
by 1880. Contributors included over 100,000 in-
dividuals, 181 villages, 10 Chambers of Com-
merce, and many school children. The pedestal,
which was America's responsibility, had been
plagued by inadequate financial support, and it
took a last-minute effort by Joseph Pulitzer,
the owner and editor of the New York World,
to raise over $100,000, most of it from school
children. Together, American and French
citizens contributed some $500,000 to the pro-
Although the Statue's completion was not
in time for the original 1876 date, the right
hand and torch were displayed at the
Philadelphia World's Fair and later in New
York, so America was given a "sneak preview"
of what was to come.
On Washington's birthday in 1877, Con-
gress accepted the statue, in the name of the
United States, as a gift from the French people.
President Hayes then authorized General
William T. Sherman, Army Chief of Staff, to
select a suitable site for the gift. Sherman,
knowing Bartholdi's preference for Bedloe's
(now Liberty) Island, wisely concurred.
Meanwhile, in France Bartholdi and his
fifty workmen finished the head, which was to
go on display at the Paris Exposition
Universelle in 1878. In 1880, the final stage was
in preparation. The copper sheets were ready to
be riveted in place, and Levi P. Morton,
American Minister to France, later Vice Presi-
dent of the United States and Governor of New
York, was invited to "drive the rivet in the first
part to be mounted, the big toe of the left
The giant lady literally grew out of the Paris
pavement. When completed, she stood 151 feet
high and remained in place for two years,
awaiting the building of a pedestal.
The statue was finished on May 21, 1884,
and formally presented to Ambassador Morton
by Ferdinand de Lesseps, head of the Franco-
American Union and builder of the Suez Canal,
at a friendship dinner on July 4, 1884.
Around this time, Bartholdi, who was a
member of Lodge Alsace Lorraine in Paris,
which was composed of intellectuals, writers
and government representatives, invited his
brothers to view his masterpiece prior to its
leaving their native land for America. It is also
reported that in November of that year, he
delivered a lecture and gave the Lodge a report
on the history and various methods used in the
creation of the statue. In 1887, after the statue
was dedicated at its final resting place, Bar-
tholdi told his Lodge brothers of the ardent
welcome he had received in New York and of
the wide enthusiasm created by his work.
Meanwhile, in America plans were being
made for the laying of the cornerstone of the
pedestal. Chairman William M. Evarts of the
American Committee contacted the Grand
Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the
State of New York, and requested a Masonic
ceremony "appropriate to the occasion."
It had been a tradition in America to have
the cornerstone of major public and private
buildings and monuments consecrated with full
Masonic rites, ever since President George
Washington, on September 18, 1793, had per-
sonally laid the cornerstone of the United States
Capital, with the assistance of the Grand Lodge
of Maryland. Similarly, the cornerstone of the
Washington Monument was laid in a Masonic
The Evart's invitation, however, was more
than a local manifestation of the influence of
the Craft or the continuance of a national prac-
tice. The presentation and erection of the
Statue of Liberty was an occasion of world-
wide significance, and delegating the laying of
the cornerstone to the Masonic Fraternity was a
fitting tribute rendered to free men of high
principles and recognized international reputa-
tions throughout the world.
The date set for the ceremony was August 5,
1884. The American Committee sent invitations
to all the leading state and municipal leaders
across the Nation. The ceremony was scheduled
to begin at two o'clock. Everything humanly
possible was carefully planned. But one factor
could not be controlledthe weather. On
August 5, 1884, it did more than just rainit
However, the ceremony went off as schedul-
ed. The gaily decorated vessel Bay Ridge,
draped with the Tricolor of France and the
Stars and Stripes, ferried approximately 100
members of the Grand Lodge of New York and
visiting Masonic Grand Officers, along with
many civic officials, to Bedloe's Island.
Because of limited space, the traditional
Masonic parade was omitted and the program
was begun immediately.
A United States Army band played " La
Marseillaise," the French National Anthem,
following with the very popular "Hail Colum-
bia." Then began, on the raised northeast cor-
ner of the pedestal, the formal cornerstone
Brother Richard M. Hunt, principal ar-
chitect of the pedestal, presented the Working
Tools to M. .W. . William A. Brodie, Grand
Master, who in turn distributed them to the
Grand Lodge officers: R. .W. . Frank R.
Lawrence, Deputy Grand Master R. .W. .
John W. Vrooman, Senior Grand Warden and
R. .W. . James Ten Eyck, Junior Grand
R. .W. . Edward M.L. Ehlers, Grand
Secretary and a member of Continental Lodge
287, read the list of items to be included in the
copper box within the cornerstone: A copy of
the United States Constitution George
Washington's Farewell Address 20 bronze
medals of Presidents up through Chester A. Ar-
thur (including Washington, Monroe, Jackson,
Polk, Buchanan, Johnson, and Garfield who
were proven Freemasons) copies of New York
City newspapers a portrait of Bartholdi a
copy of Poem on Liberty by E.R. Johnes and
a list on parchment of the Grand Lodge of-
By traditional ceremony, the cornerstone
was then tested and being found, square, level
and plumb, the Deputy Grand Master com-
pleted the work by applying the mortar and by
having the stone lowered firmly into place. The
Grand Master then struck three blows with the
gavel and declared the stone duly laid. The
elements of consecration, corn, wine and oil,
were next presented by R. .W. . Brothers
Lawrence, Vrooman and Ten Eyck.
The most Worshipful Grand Master then
gave a brief but pointed talk. He posed a ques-
tion: "Why call upon the Masonic Fraternity to
lay the cornerstone of such a structure as is here
to be erected?" His answer, which is as true to-
day as it was then, was: "No institution has
done more to promote liberty and to free men
from the trammels and chains of ignorance and
tyranny than has Freemasonry."
The principal address was given by the
Deputy Grand Master, R. .W. . Brother
Lawrence, who said in part:
"Massive as this statue is, its physical pro-
portions sink into comparative obscurity when
contrasted with the nobility of its concept.
Liberty Enlightening the World! How lofty the
thought! To be free, is the first, the noblest
aspiration of the human breast. And it is now a
universally admitted truth that only in propor-
tion as men become possessed of liberty, do
they become civilized, enlightened, and useful.
. . . As Masons, we cannot appropriate to
ourselves alone the lessons which this monu-
ment will teach. Not only to us, but to all men
will it appeal . . . the gigantic figure which is
here to stand in unapproachable grandeur while
the centuries pass, will command:
"Be noble, and the nobleness that lies
In other men, sleeping, but never dead,
Will rise in majesty to meet thine own. "
The remainder of the story concerning the
Statue of Liberty and Freemasons is almost
Upon completion, the pedestal stood 89 feet
high from its foundation on old Fort Wood, an
abandoned 12-acre site on Bedloe's Island,
2,950 yards southwest of Manhattan Island.
Liberty was dismantled in Paris, every cop-
per plate and beam coded and packed into 214
cases, and the whole shipment transported on a
70-car train to the coast. After a month at sea
on the Isere, she arrived at Bedloe's Island in
June, 1885. It took 15 months to assemble the
225 tons of pure copper (applied in l/8"
thickness), steel and iron, but when she was in
place, the result was as magnificent as the
Dedication Day, October 28, 1886, was
declared a holiday in New York City. Charles
P. Stone, Grand Marshal, led the 20,000
paraders, including many Masonic Lodges,
from 57th Street past President Crover
Cleveland's reviewing stand at Madison Square
Park and on down to the Battery, where groups
were taken by steamer to Bedloe's Island.
Brother Henry C. Potter, Episcopal Bishop of
New York, gave the Invocation and Comte Fer-
dinand de Lesseps presented the statue to
Chairman Evarts in the name of the French
Both the Statue and the pedestal were then
formally presented to President Cleveland, who
received the monument with eloquent thanks in
the name of the United States. Brother Bar-
tholdi then pulled a silken cord releasing the
Tricolor veil from the head and face of the
Statue of "Liberty Enlightening the World."
The main speaker was Chauncey M. Depew,
United States Senator, railroad president, one
of the most famous orators in American
history, and an active member of Kane Lodge
454, having been raised in 1885. The program
was closed with a Benediction pronounced by
The Statue of Liberty is not just a colossal
225-ton pile of metal reaching some 300 feet in
the air at the entrance of New York harbor,
conspicuous by day and a guide to mariers by
night. Magnificent in its conception, wonderful
in design, and a masterpiece of engineering
skill, this gigantic figure, holding aloft a torch
of freedom in one hand and clasping a book of
laws inscribed with the date "July 4, 1776" in
the other, casts its light far beyond the horizon.
The light which illumines the Statue of Liberty
is a guiding symbol to the path of freedom for
men of all nations.
Yes, Freemasons everywhere can well be
proud of the key role played by the Craft in the
inception and erection of this great memorial,
and-each of us should renew his vows and
obligations to spread further the light of
freedom, truth, tolerance, and justice which the
Statue of Liberty so grandly symbolizes.
(On August 5, 1984, the Grand Lodge of
New York observed the Centenary of the cor-
nerstone laying in appropriate ceremonies at
Liberty Island, which were attended by
Masonic and governmental dignitaries. A
bronze plaque commemorating the original
event was dedicated and affixed to the
R.W. Bro. Singer resides at 501 Tulip Ave.
Floral Park, N.Y. 11001
This article is partly based on two seminal works, one
by Brother William C. Kiessel, Jr., which appeared in
the September, 1983 issue of The Masonic Philalesist,
and the other by J.E. Bebrens, from the October, 1983
Knight Templar magazine. Material for these articles,
as well as additional information for this Short Talk
Bulletin was gathered from the files of the Robert R.
Livingston Masonic Library nf the Grand Lodge of New
York, and the Spring 1984 issue of The Empire Slate
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