What would drive you to pitch the idea of a colossal statue to a country you had never visited?

Communards_in_their_CoffinsImagine you’ve never been to China. You don’t even know a single soul in China. And yet you set off to pitch the Chinese people on your idea for a colossal statue intended to be taller than their tallest skyscraper. Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi did exactly this when he came to America in 1871 to pitch a nation on the Statue of Liberty. It’s hard to fathom such hubris.

Key background though is that Bartholdi was not setting sail during a period of French calm. The Franco-Prussian war had only just ended, his beloved home region of Alsace given away in the negotiations. Paris, where he had been living for more than two decades, still smoldered from fires set by the Communards in a gruesome battle with the French government known as The Bloody Week. Ten thousand French citizens had been slaughtered in the streets.

An exile from Alsace, Bartholdi arrived back to Paris two days after the last Communard holdouts faced a firing squad against the wall of the Père-Lachaise cemetery. Bartholdi found “houses in ruins, facades torn to pieces. Troops have occupied my house. Holes in the courtyard walls go through… not a pane of glass left.”

When he set sail, only 40 passengers wandered the ship intended to carry 300. Few people had the money or will or optimism to head off on a voyage. Yet Bartholdi carried the designs for a statue he had conceived for Egypt, hoping to find a new buyer.

Paris burning in 1871. Looking toward the Hôtel de Ville in flames.

Leave a Reply

Events

New York, NY

Thursday
December 8, 2016, 8pm

Inventing Realities Scandinavia House, 58 Park Avenue, NY, NY

* Moderator of discussion with Susana Moreira Marques, Asle Skredderberget, and Matei Visniec for New Literature from Europe. Click here for more information.


BROOKLYN, NY

Monday
July 7, 2014, 7pm

Books Beneath the Bridge Granite Prospect, Brooklyn Bridge Park

* Books sold by Freebird Bookstore Event details to come. Click here for more information.


NEW YORK, NY

Tuesday
July 15, 2014, 12:30 pm

National Archives at New York City
One Bowling Green

Talk and slide presentation on the great adventure to build the Statue of Liberty.


NEW YORK, NY

Wednesday
July 16, 2014, 7:00 pm

Barnes & Noble at 82nd Street 2289 Broadway, New York, NY, 10024

Reading and talk


WASHINGTON, DC

Saturday
August 30, 2014

2014 Library of Congress National Book Festival Walter E. Washington Convention Center 801 Mt. Vernon Pl NW

Talk and Q&A from 2:35 p.m. to 3:20 p.m. at the Special Programs Pavilion Signing from 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Click here for more information.


Latest Tweets

Latest Tweets