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American Monuments: The Statue of Liberty

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This week, David Clark will be our tour guide as we take a closer look at some of America's greatest monuments. His series kicks off today with highlights from the history of "Liberty Enlightening the World," known to the masses as the Statue of Liberty: her life as modern colossus, wartime pin-up centerfold, copper bosom to comfort the weary, hostage for the dissatisfied, and bane of Vigo.

The Conception and Birth of Our Stern Green Giant

Ambitions ran high towards the end of the 19th century, and French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi was aching to build a modern colossus. The Colossus of Rhodes, archetype of Western colossi, was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: a hundred-foot-high sculpture of the Greek sun-god Helios that loomed over the harbor of Rhodes in the 3rd century B.C. Many people agreed that Bartholdi's modern colossus idea was a fine one -- then as now, people liked anything big, and always found it gratifying to compare themselves to Ancient Greeks -- but when it came time to shell out for materials, the rich and powerful would shrug, mutter something about other priorities, and shuffle away. (If Bartholdi hadn't been frustrated at first, Lady Liberty might have been built in Egypt as a lighthouse for the Suez Canal, titled "Egypt Bringing Light to Asia." As though they don't have enough hulking monuments already.)

Nevertheless, circumstances eventually granted Bartholdi his chance. The French were planning to give an ostentatious gift to the United States in honor of the centennial anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, and in celebration of our mutual affection for liberty and republics and that kind of thing. Bartholdi pitched the idea of a giant Lady Liberty -- a symbol that tied modern republican ideals to classical Rome -- and France deemed it worthy. She would be titled "Liberty Enlightening the World," she would have skin of beaten copper, and she would bear the Torch of Enlightenment, a seven-pointed halo, an unwieldy toga, a strong and sober brow, and a tablet spelling out in Roman numerals the birthday of the USA (July IV, MDCCLXXVI).

Work began in Paris during the 1870s, but only an arm was ready for 1876, the true centennial year.

This limb was exhibited at the World's Fair in Philadelphia that year; then the head appeared two years later at another World's Fair, in Paris. The full woman was finally ready for display in 1884, so they packed her into hundreds of crates, shipped her oversea, and rebuilt the Statue atop a star-shaped pedestal the US had set up for her (with much less enthusiasm and much more fundraising troubles than the French had), on a little island that had served in the past as a pesthouse, quarantine station, gallows, military prison, and dump, among other things. Then during a grand celebration in late 1886, the Statue of Liberty was dedicated, and its face was dramatically unveiled from behind a French flag. At the time, she was the tallest structure in New York, at 305 feet. Rumor has it she looks like Bartholdi's mother.

The American Colossus quickly turned green -- which was inevitable, since copper will oxidize whenever given the chance. But nobody minded terribly except maybe Bartholdi, who had hoped the statue would be gilded, and in fact never felt satisfied that the Americans understood how fantastic his statue truly was, how symbolically potent, how politically inspiring, and so on.

Military Icon and Mother of Exiles

After the parades, high-flown rhetoric and fanfare of her unveiling, the Statue of Liberty endured periods of neglect and indifference. Some regarded her as little more than New York's ornate, bedraggled lighthouse. The World Wars, however, bolstered public appreciation for Lady Liberty: she was the symbolic crusader against tyranny and feminine counterpart to Uncle Sam -- the original Ms. America. A celebration of her 50th anniversary, presided over by President Roosevelt, stimulated further interest in the Statue as an icon of the American Way.

colossus.jpgThrough those years of growing favor, Lady Liberty acquired another meaning, as well -- something less militant, more maternal. Due in part to her proximity to Ellis Island, the Statue came to represent America as a refuge for immigrants, and embodied for weary sea travelers the promise of freedom and prosperity. The Statue doesn't quite have the eyes of a welcoming mother, but she's at least humanoid, and unarmed, so that's welcome enough. Early in the Statue's life, the poet Emma Lazarus divined this significance and dubbed her "Mother of Exiles," in a sonnet that is now world famous -- but was little known until the 1930s. Inspired by an influx of harried Jews fleeing persecution in Russia, Lazarus wrote the celebrated lines: "Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breath free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore." Titled "The New Colossus" and engraved inside the pedestal's entrance in 1903, Lazarus' sonnet captures an interpretation of the Statue that later generations would come to embrace.

The Ultimate Hostage, the Ultimate Hippie

Since World War II, Americans have considered the Statue a vital national symbol, manifesting any number of powerful and sometimes clashing values. As a locus of American identity and the troubled American Dream, she became a potent object for political gestures -- and in the 1970s these culminated in a series of occupations. Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) snuck into the Statue and barricaded her entrances in 1971. They flew the flag upside down from Liberty's crown and remained inside for a VVAW.jpgcouple of days, demanding withdrawal from Vietnam, before they peacefully dispersed. The VVAW re-occupied the Statue after the war's end to draw attention to the wretched treatment of American veterans. In 1977, a group of Iranians holed up inside the Statue to protest the Shah's crimes in Iran, and America's role in them. Then again that same year, Puerto Rican nationalists captured the Statue and draped a Puerto Rican flag from the crown.

There was a more passive attempt to appropriate the national icon in 1968, when a well-meaning hippie offered a colorful, colossus-sized string of beads that he'd custom-made for Lady Liberty. "They are lightweight, waterproof and made to go around her neck and extend to her waist," he wrote; and by wearing them the Statue would "reflect the fashion of the forward-thinking people who are changing the attitudes in America today." Sadly, the Park Service turned down the gift -- or else we might have witnessed the spectacle of an angry President Nixon, emphatic enemy of the so-called counterculture, slashing and tearing the beads from Lady Liberty like one of Cinderella's vicious step-sisters . . .

The Spectacle of Lady Liberty

Hollywood hasn't shied from making a spectacle of the Statue and all its symbolic suggestions. She's served as the scene for a number of climactic battles, from Hitchcock's Saboteur to X-Men. She's been demolished, toppled, beheaded, and burned by the many enemies of Life and Liberty -- including aliens, sea beasts, the prehistoric reptile Rodan (enemy of Godzilla), Nuclear Man (who throws the Statue at Superman), Mother Nature (famous for mood swings), and the self-destructive human race -- whom Charlton Heston dramatically damns to hell at the end of Planet of the Apes.

I say the Statue's most profound and moving role (at least her most mobile) is in Ghostbusters II. Animated by reactive purple mood goo, the power of positive thinking, and some hot dance music, Lady Liberty struts through Manhattan and cheers up New Yorkers enough that their high spirits bring down Vigo the Carpathian, that dark sorcerer and savage baby-thief. Bartholdi himself could not have envisioned that his Statue would work such untold wonders.

See Also: The Unfinished Tribute to Crazy Horse, The Washington Monument, The Gateway Arch (And Why It's Not Fascist)

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 

PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.

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