I was lucky enough to visit Colmar, the town where Bartholdi was born, twice during the time I researched Liberty’s Torch. His childhood home has been transformed into an impressive museum. On one floor, the historian, Régis Hueber, presided over Bartholdi’s archive of letters and diaries.
The town shows plenty of signs of both French and German influence, having been absorbed into one or the other nation over its history. The top two photos show the view from the small apartment I rented while researching. The warehouse structure on the canal is the covered food market, which served as an ad hoc ammunition storage facility during the Franco-Prussian war; at that time Bartholdi was called upon to organize the ragtag fighting force of townspeople as commander of the National Guard.
The Statue of Liberty is America’s most famous symbol, yet few people could name the man who imagined, created, championed, groveled for, lost sleep over, and unveiled the colossus. The accepted history goes that France gave Liberty to America as an act of friendship, but this was not a gift from government to government. Instead, one artist envisioned a colossus. He designed her to stand in the harbor of the Suez Canal, but the deal fell through. He needed to sell his work somewhere, so he headed to America:
“Each site presents some difficulty,” he wrote to his mother on his journey in 1871. “But the greatest difficulty, I believe, will be the American character which is hardly open to things of the imagination. . . . I believe that the realization of my project will be a matter of luck.”