10 Amazing Statue of Liberty Facts

iStock
iStock

Since first arriving to New York as a gift from the people of France, the Statue of Liberty has become one of America's most well-known and iconic symbols. Lady Liberty has undergone some updates and changes over 130-plus years she has presided over New York Harbor, but here are 10 amazing Statue of Liberty facts you may not have known.

1. THE STATUE OF LIBERTY'S DEDICATION INSPIRED ANOTHER NEW YORK CITY TRADITION.

The Statue of Liberty’s dedication inspired another uniquely New York institution: the ticker tape parade. New York office workers got the idea to unfurl financial ribbons from windows on October 29, 1886, the day President Grover Cleveland presided over the dedication ceremony.

2. A HANDFUL OF PEOPLE HAVE CALLED LIBERTY ISLAND HOME.

Up until Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, David Luchsinger and his wife were residents of a very, very exclusive neighborhood: Liberty Island. As the superintendent of the Statue of Liberty, Luchsinger is one of a select few people who have ever called the island home. The National Park Ranger selected to be the seer of the statue is provided with free housing—a small brick house, located on the other side of the island. Unfortunately, the cozy little house sustained serious damage during Hurricane Sandy and was not rebuilt, making the Luchsingers Liberty Island's last official residents.

3. THE STATUE'S PEDESTAL USED TO HOUSE MILITARY FAMILIES.

The star-shaped Fort Wood, which now serves as part of the statue’s pedestal, was home to military families from 1818 until the mid-1930s. These military families often included young children like Pete Bluhm, who, in 2012, recalled to The New York Times a Fourth of July where G.I.s bounced bottle rockets off of Lady Liberty’s posterior. Another man, James Hill, recalled that he and his younger sister would drop baseballs from Liberty’s crown to see how high they would bounce. Other Liberty Island kids said they climbed to the torch tower and made it rock back and forth.

4. VISITORS USED TO BE ABLE TO CLIMB TO THE TOP OF THE TORCH.

Once upon a time, it wasn’t just Island kids who could climb to the tip of the torch. Tourists were able to climb up to the precarious perch until 1916, when those privileges were revoked in response to the Black Tom incident. Around 2 a.m. on July 30, Black Tom—then an island in New York Harbor—was rocked by the explosion of about 2 million tons of war materials such as TNT, black powder, shrapnel, and dynamite. The blast was the equivalent of an earthquake measuring 5.5 on the Richter scale; shrapnel flew across the night sky and embedded itself in the Statue of Liberty. Windows shattered as far as 25 miles away.

It was later determined that German agents intent on stopping the munitions from getting to their English enemies had ignited the supply. The Statue of Liberty’s torch was closed, partially due to infrastructure damage from the blast and partially just out of concern for terrorism. It’s been closed ever since—but you can still appreciate the view from the top with this TorchCam, installed in 2011.

5. THE SPIKES RADIATING FROM HER CROWN AREN'T PART OF THE CROWN.

The seven spikes radiating from the Statue of Liberty's crown aren’t actually part of the crown. They’re meant to be a halo, also known as an aureole, with the spikes representing the world's seven seas and continents. The rays were temporarily removed from her crown in 1938 so their rusted supports could be replaced.

6. THE STATUE OF LIBERTY WAS SUPPOSED TO HAVE A SISTER STATUE AND LIGHTHOUSE IN EGYPT.

Sculptor Frédéric Bartholdi offered to make Egypt a large piece for the entrance to the Suez Canal called “Egypt Carrying Light to Asia,” which would have featured a veiled Egyptian peasant woman holding a lantern. The Egyptian khedive declined, based on what it would cost.

7. WHEN THE STATUE FIRST ARRIVED FROM FRANCE, SHE WAS THE COLOR OF A SHINY NEW PENNY.

It took roughly 20 years for Liberty to patina to the greenish-blue hue she is today.

8. THE STATUE IS MODELED ON A REAL PERSON.

Frederic Bartholdi has trumped any Mother’s Day gift you could ever come up with: He used his mother, Charlotte, as the model for the most recognized statue in the world. This was first discovered in 1876, when Bartholdi invited French Senator Jules Bozerian to his box at the opera. When Bozerian pulled back the curtain to step into the box, he was shocked to find a real-life version of the Statue of Liberty sitting there in the box. When he said so to Bartholdi, the sculptor smiled: “But do you know who this lady is? She’s my mother,” he told the senator.

9. SHE'S GOT A LOT OF NICKNAMES.

According to The Statue of Liberty Encyclopedia, “Everybody’s Gal” has a lot of nicknames: America’s Freedom, America’s Great Lady, Aunt Liberty, Bartholdi’s Daughter, Giant Goddess, Grande Dame, Green Goddess, The Lady Higher Up, Lady of the Harbor, Lady on a Pedestal, Lady with a Torch, Mother of Exiles, Mother of Freedom, Saint Liberty, and the Spirit of American Independence.

10. "THE STATUE OF LIBERTY,” IS, IN FACT, A NICKNAME.

Bartholdi’s name for his gift was “Liberty Enlightening the World.”

10 Juicy Facts About Leeches

Ian Cook
Ian Cook

Leeches get a bad rap, but they’re actually pretty cool once you get to know them—and we're finding out more about them, even today. Recently, a team led by Anna Phillips, curator of parasitic worms at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, discovered a new species of medicinal leech (pictured above) in a Maryland swamp. We asked parasite expert and curator at the American Museum of Natural History Mark E. Siddall to share some surprising facts about the worms we love to hate. 

1. Not all leeches suck blood.

Hematophagous, or blood-feeding, species are only one type of leech. “The vast majority of species are [hematophagous],” Siddall tells Mental Floss, “but it depends on the environment. In North America, there are probably more freshwater leeches that don’t feed on blood than there are blood-feeders.” And even among the hematophagous species, there are not too many who are after you. “Very few of them are interested in feeding on human blood,” Siddall says. “Certainly they’ll do it, if they’re given the opportunity, but they’re not what they’re spending most of their time feeding on.” 

2. Leeches are everywhere.

Japanese leech on a log
Pieria, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

“Every continent on the planet has leeches, with the exception of Antarctica,” Siddall says. “And even then there are marine leeches in Antarctic waters.” Humans have co-existed with leeches for so long, according to Siddall, that just about every language has a word for leech. 

3. Leeches have made a comeback in medicine.

Bloodletting for bloodletting’s sake has fallen out of favor with Western physicians, but that doesn’t mean medicinal leeches are enjoying a cushy retirement. Today, surgeons keep them on hand in the operating room and use them as mini-vacuums to clean up blood. “That is a perfectly sensible use of leeches,” Siddall says. Other uses, though, are less sensible: “The more naturopathic application of leeches in order to get rid of bad blood or to cure, I don’t know, whatever happens to ail you, is complete hooey,” he says. How on Earth would leeches take away bad blood and leave good blood? It’s silly.” 

4. Novelist Amy Tan has her own species of leeches.

Land-based leeches made an appearance in Tan’s 2005 book Saving Fish from Drowning, a fact that instantly put the author in leech researchers’ good graces. “There are not a lot of novels out there with terrestrial leeches in them,” Siddall says. So when he and his colleagues identified a new species of tiny terrestrial leeches, they gave the leech Tan’s name. The author loved it. “I am thrilled to be immortalized as Chtonobdella tanae,” Tan said in a press statement. “I am now planning my trip to Queensland, Australia, where I hope to take leisurely walks through the jungle, accompanied by a dozen or so of my namesake feeding on my ankles.”

5. Leeches can get pretty big.

The giant Amazon leech (Haementeria ghilianii) can grow up to 18 inches and live up to 20 years. And yes, this one’s a blood-feeder. Like all hematophagous species, H. ghilianii sticks its proboscis (which can be up to 6 inches long) into a host, drinks its fill, and falls off. Scientists thought the species was extinct until a zoologist found two specimens in the 1970s, one of whom he named Grandma Moses. We are not making this up.

6. Leeches make good bait.

Many walleye anglers swear by leeches. “A leech on any presentation moves more than other types of live bait," pro fisher Jerry Hein told Fishing League Worldwide. "I grew up fishing them, and I think they're the most effective live bait around no matter where you go." There’s an entire leech industry to provide fishers with their bait. One year, weather conditions kept the leeches from showing up in their typical habitats, which prevented their collection and sale. Speaking to CBS news, one tackle shop owner called the absence of leeches “the worst nightmare in the bait industry.”

7. Leech scientists use themselves as bait.

Siddall and his colleagues collect and study wild leeches. That means hours of trekking through leech territory, looking for specimens. “Whether we’re wandering in water or traipsing through a bamboo forest,” Siddall says, “we are relying on the fact that leeches are attracted to us.” Do the leeches feed on them? “Oh my god, yes. We try to get them before they feed on us … but sometimes, obviously, you can’t help it.”

8. Leech sex is mesmerizing.

Like many worms, leeches are all hermaphroditic. The specifics of mating vary by species, but most twine themselves together and trade sperm packets. (The two leeches in the video above are both named Norbert.)

9. Some leech species make surprisingly caring parents. 

“There’s a whole family of leeches that, when they lay their eggs, will cover them with their own bodies,” Siddall says. “They’ll lay the eggs, cover them with their bodies, and fan the eggs to prevent fungus or bacteria from getting on them, and then when the eggs hatch, they will attach to the parent. They’re not feeding on the parent, just hanging on, and then when the parent leech goes to its next blood meal it’s carrying its offspring to its next blood meal. That’s pretty profound parental care, especially for invertebrates.”

10. You might be the next to discover a new leech species. 

Despite living side-by-side with leeches for thousands of years, we’ve still got a lot to learn about them. Scientists are aware of about 700 different species, but they know there are many more out there. “I’ll tell you what I wish for,” Siddall says. “If you ever get fed on by a leech, rather than tearing off and burning it and throwing it in the trash, maybe observe it and see if you can see any color patterns. Understand that there’s a real possibility that it could be a new species. So watch them, let them finish. They’re not gonna take much blood. And who knows? It could be scientifically useful.”

22 Weird Jobs From 100 Years Ago

Metal Floss via YouTube
Metal Floss via YouTube

Before everyone started working in tech, people actually had their choice of eclectic and strange vocations that put food on their old-timey tables. Discover what lamplighters, lectores, and knocker-uppers did back in the day as Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy runs down 22 Weird Old Jobs from 100 Years Ago.

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