Tag: National Park Service

Washington Monument by Lena-Marie Lannutti

The Washington Monument is an iconic symbol of the resonance of the Founding Fathers in our modern era. Like the Liberty Bell, it has a federal distinction (besides the fact that it is located in the nation’s capital). It also has a unique history, and has developed its share of stories over time. The monument also has some flaws, that are not as obvious as a crack in the center of the Liberty Bell.

The National Parks Service remarks that the Monument, “…serving as an awe-inspiring reminder of George Washington’s greatness. The monument, like the man, stands in no one’s shadow.” [1] Originally the Monument was meant to be grandeur than it is now. Construction for the Monument began in 1848, funding for the Monument mainly originated from charitable donations, as this project was not federally funded.[2] The architect was Robert Mills, who’s originally plan was, “…called for a 600-foot Egyptian-style obelisk ringed by thirty 100-foot columns.”[3] Due to among other things, a lack of funding, only the obelisk remains as part of Mill’s vision. So, the Washington monument is the only American icon that remains unfinished. Like the Liberty Bell’s crack, it has a unique feature (or lack of one in this case) that sets it apart from everyday objects.

Figure 1: Original Design for the Monument [4]

Public reaction to the Washington Monument was mixed during its construction, especially in the 1850s, when the Know Nothing Party took over the board for the Monument’s construction [5] This was a nativist group, who were Anti-Catholic to the point where they destroyed Pope Pius IX commemorative stone the Vatican sent for the Monument [6] Construction was halted in the 1860s, as the Civil War became the biggest issue in the Capitol. The Monument was halfway finished at this time, and Mark Twain noted, “It has the aspect of a factory chimney with the top broken off,” [7] Also during the Civil War the land around the monument itself, “…were used as a cattle pen for the Union Army. There was also a slaughterhouse behind the monument.”[8] Only after the nation itself had healed could construction on the Monument resume, this phase was federally funded as signed by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1876[9]

The Washington Monument like the Liberty Bell has connections to the early foundations of American democracy. The Monument especially is a visual connection to the Father of our country. Jill Ogline Titus remarks that Americans connection with the Liberty Bell, “…but as a bridge to an imagined historical moment in which public officials were idealistic, politicians virtuous, and citizens optimistic about the future”[10] The same could be said for the Washington Monument itself, as a symbol of the mythologized aspect of our collective memory of George Washington. The Liberty Bell has had to grapple with the complex nature of George Washington, as both the American Cincinnatus and a perpetuator of slavery in America Waldstreicher contends that opposition for slavery was attached to “But it did so only after giving Americans the cultural tools of denial…to resist an attack on the institution”[11]. This can explain the disconnect between the representation of Washington in the monument and the reality of his personal contradictions to liberty. Even with this complex legacy the Washington Monument still remains an American icon, and a national landmark.

Figure 1: The Washington Monument[12]

An Island of Hope and Tears: Erasing History on Ellis Island by Maxine Whitney

According to author Jill Ogline, the reason the Liberty Bell has become one of America’s most important and well recognized icons is because it is “a tangible “piece of history” electrified by a surrounding web of legend” (Ogline, 52). A much larger icon that could be described in a similar fashion is Ellis Island, the checkpoint for immigration into the land of the American dream from 1892- 1954. As visitors walk the halls of this isolated landmark, they are taken back to a time where people from all around the world believed that America, particularly New York, was a place where the streets were lined with gold and and the job opportunities were endless. This site continues to be a mecca that Americans are willing to travel to see because “the desire for an emotional connection with the past is a prime motivator in drawing visitors to historic sites”.

Even though the history of the Liberty Bell is still argued, and its importance and worth stem mostly from myth, both the bell and that famous crack connect American’s to their past and the very beginning days of their nation. In an article written by Gary B. Nash, he explains that even before it had cracked the bell had become a symbol, being appropriated by some into a symbol of anti-slavery as well as American freedom and Liberty. However, as discussed in Ogline’s piece, the feeling of liberty and freedom that the bell exudes today is covering up a dark past.

The Liberty Bell visiting center lies on top of the ruins of America’s first president’s home, specifically the section where his 8 slaves resided when they were not tending the field across the way. Even though the Park’s service assures critics that it was not a conscious decision to place the Bell on a slave sight, that does not excuse the blatant lack of discussion of slavery within the Liberty bell exhibit. The Park’s service would rather move that discussion, to a place where it hardly makes any sense, than move the Liberty Bell, essentially and physically covering up that part of history.

Ellis Island does not deny the sadder stories of it’s past. The website for Ellis Island, which is also run by the National Parks Service, calls the landmarks “Island of Hope, Island of Tears”.  There are several exhibits explaining exactly what happened if you were not cleared to enter the U.S and even stories of families who were separated. However, similar to the case of the Liberty Bell, the actual area where these tragedies occurred is left out of the exhibit. A New York times article pointed out that the main part of the museum where the story is told is only one of the 33 buildings on Ellis Island. The rooms and buildings where the sick and disabled were left behind for “treatment” and “rehabilitation” are not only off limits, but they have been neglected to the point of significant decay, essentially erasing that part of the story.

Even though both of these icons have their flaws, that is part of what makes them such important American icons. American’s will always need something physical to connect them to their past, and both of these do hold historical significance. Also, their problematic nature inspires really important narratives that allow American’s to critique and educate themselves and others.

Nash, Gary B. “The Bell Becomes an Icon.” Chapter 2. The Liberty Bell. N.p.: Integrated Publishing Solutions, 2010. 31-75. Print.

The National Parks Service. “Ellis Island.” National Parks Service. The National Parks Service: U.S Department of Interior, n.d. Web. 4 Feb. 2016. <http://www.nps.gov/elis/index.htm>.

The New York Times. “Ghosts of Ellis Island.” The New York Times: Opinion Pages. The New York Times Company, 8 Sept. 2001. Web. 4 Feb. 2016. <http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/08/opinion/ghosts-of-ellis-island.html>.

Ogline, Jill. “‘Creating Dissonance for the Visitor’: The Heart of the Liberty Bell Controversy.” The Public Historian 26.3 (2004): 49-57. JSTOR. Web. 4 Feb. 2016. <https://blackboard.temple.edu/bbcswebdav/courses/LA_MN_HIST_2818_1901956_50F/Jill%20Ogline%20Titus%20Creating%20Dissonance%20for%20the%20Visitor%20The%20Heart%20of%20the%20Liberty%20Bell%20Controversy.pdf>.

Images from:

1st Ellis Island Picture is from the Untapped Cities website: http://untappedcities.com/2014/12/11/10-fun-facts-about-ellis-island-you-might-not-know/

2nd Image is of one of the hospital buildings taken by Stephen Wilkes, presented on the NPR website: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6600709

Gettysburg National Park — An interactive experience with history by Paige Gross

devil-s-den-from-littleOut of the many icons to compare the Liberty Bell to, I chose Gettysburg National Park, the site of the arguably most important (or at least-turning point) in the Civil War. I believe it is comparable to The Liberty Bell, even though it is a massive stretch of land, because of its ties to a spirit of liberty and freedom, especially when it comes to liberating the enslaved population.

“The revelation that the new Bell pavilion would be placed upon a site intimately associated with slavery was a symbolic bombshell setting the stage for sustained public dialogue,” Jill Ogline wrote in her article.

It’s possible not everyone sees this connection, but I grew up visiting the battlefields for class trips and with family the way a lot of people in class described visiting the Liberty Bell. Just as the history of the Liberty Bell was cleaned up and made shiny for visitors on its plot in Philadelphia, most of those on the tours around the battle fields focused on the glory of the battle, rather than some of the biggest issues of the Civil War.

There are the true history buffs, though, that don’t peddle the washed-down version of what happened there, just as we learned about the conflict of placing the bell on an area not spoken about but definitely the heart of slave land.
While I’m not sure that as many ideas can be projected on this national park as can be on The Liberty Bell, it appears as another part of the American history the Parks Service deemed important enough to preserve.

While the Bell and Gettysburg’s grounds have these similarities, they have obvious differences in their size, visibility and how they get to be interacted with. The Bell gets to be viewed (and allegedly touched­–are we sure we won’t get arrested?) while visitors to Gettysburg get to interact with the grounds wholly.

Most of my childhood days spent visiting my grandparents in appropriately-named Littlestown were accompanied by a 15-minute drive to the battlegrounds to play and picnic on the rocks once used as hiding spots and defense. I can’t say whether or not my visiting the battle grounds as a kid made had any affect on my admiration of history, but it did give me some perspective on the country’s history in the same way I think the Liberty Bell does for a lot of people.

Photo is of Devil’s Den, primary hiding spot during the Civil War and childhood playground for my sister and I. Rredited to TripAdvisor.com.

Mother of Exiles: How the Statue Representing Republicanism Became A Symbol of Opportunity for Immigrants by Keira Campbell Wingert

xin_422070605080848438046When the world thinks of America, one of the first images they conjure is the giant, green hued statue of a woman perched atop her pedestal on Ellis Island. She carries a tabula ansata in the crook of her left arm, and her right hand holds a torch high above her head. She has a noble face, and green spikes create a halo around her head. This figure is the Statue of Liberty, and with its placement on Ellis Island, the gateway to America for millions of European immigrants from 1892 to as recently as the 1950s, it became emblematic of opportunity and new beginnings. However, the statue in its beginnings was not necessarily supposed to represent opportunity but rather liberty and the ideals of republicanism.

In 1865, Edouard Laboulaye, a French political figure, proposed that France gift the United States with a statue representing liberty and the ideals of a republic in honor of the U.S.’s upcoming centennial celebration. Ten years later the French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, who had a fascination with “colossal” works, was commissioned by France to design a statue for the United States. The U.S. and France agreed that while France would make the statue itself, the U.S. was responsible for building its pedestal.

Bartholdi and Laboulaye both wanted the statue to represent American ideals. They chose to make the statue a colossal figure of Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom. According to myth surrounding the statue, Bartholdi supposedly had his mother Charlotte sit as the model for the statue’s solemn, simple face. The symbolic torch and tabula ansata were included to represent the ideals of a republic—ideals that France and the U.S. both shared. The statue’s feet were to stand on a broken chain representing freedom from monarchy. Though the statue was supposed to be completed for the U.S.’s centennial celebration in 1876, fundraising and construction for both the pedestal and statue took too long. Thus, the statue and pedestal were ready to be dedicated 10 years after the centennial in 1886.

hh0041sThree years before the dedication, in 1883, Emma Lazarus, a poet and New York native, penned a sonnet to donate to an auction raising money for the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal fund. In this poem, called “The New Colossus,” she describes the massive copper-plated statue as the “Mother of Exiles” welcoming immigrants to America on her perch on Ellis Island. The poem initially held very little significance to the overall story of the Statue; while Lazarus’ sonnet was read on the day of the statue’s dedication, it then went almost completely ignored—that is, until Lazarus’ friend Georgina Schuyler began an endeavor to memorialize the sonnet. By 1903, Shuyler’s efforts had been successful and a plaque of the sonnet was placed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.

Since then, Lazarus’ “The New Colossus” has become synonymous with the Statue of Liberty and immigration to America. Through the poem, Lazarus gives the Statue of Liberty a voice:

“Keep, ancient lands, your stories pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” (1883)

Thanks to the poem greeting all immigrants coming ashore in New York, the Statue became a more than a symbol of liberty and the republic, as was originally intended. Rather, it became many immigrants’ first memory of their new life and the world of opportunity that awaited them. The language in Lazarus’ poem transformed the centennial gift into an emblem of a new life and a chance to pursue one’s dreams.

The Statue of Liberty’s change in meaning parallels the stories of other U.S. icons, such as the Liberty Bell. Like the Bell, the Statue did not take on the meaning it has today until literature was created surrounding it, popularizing one author’s perceived meaning of the monument. And just as the Bell represents both Philadelphia and the U.S., the image of the Statue of Liberty can be synonymous with both New York City and the U.S. at large. But perhaps the popularity of these icons as tourist attractions in their respective cities has simply changed the way we view them altogether. While they may once have been symbols of freedom, liberty, hope, opportunity, and the like, they now mostly represent the places in which they reside. Where once thousands of people gathered below the Statue of Liberty to enter the U.S. as citizens, the tourists who flock to see this monument have become the new “huddled masses.”



“The New Colossus” manuscript – http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/haventohome/images/hh0041s.jpg

Statue of Liberty Tourism – http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-07/05/xin_422070605080848438046.jpg

“A Timeline of Statue of Liberty.” (2016). The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. Retrieved from http://www.libertyellisfoundation.org/statue-of-liberty-timeline

Conradt, S. (2013). “10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Statue of Liberty.” Retrieved from http://mentalfloss.com/article/51521/10-things-you-didnt-know-about-statue-liberty

“Immigration Timeline.” (2016). The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. Retrieved from http://www.libertyellisfoundation.org/immigration-timeline

Lazarus, E. (1883). “The New Colossus.” Retrieved from http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/175887

“Libertas.” Encyclopedia Brittanica. 2008. Retrieved 1 February 2016.

“Statue History.” (2016). The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. Retrieved from http://www.libertyellisfoundation.org/statue-history

Young, B.R. (1997). Emma Lazarus in Her World: Life and Letters. The Jewish Publication Society, p. 3.