2011-06-15 / Features

Statue Of Liberty Comes To New York

BY AL RONZONI, TRUSTEE, GREATER ASTORIA HISTORICAL SOCIETY


Photo public domain. Frederic Bartholdi designed and oversaw the construction of “Lady Liberty”. The statue was presented as a gift from the people of France. Photo public domain. Frederic Bartholdi designed and oversaw the construction of “Lady Liberty”. The statue was presented as a gift from the people of France. Get into a conversation with a long time Queens resident and you’re likely to discover a subscriber of the Long Island Star–Journal, a daily paper that informed the community about local and world news until it folded in 1968. A banner across the Star–Journal masthead reminded readers that the newspaper's name came from the merger of the Long Island Daily Star (1876) and the North Shore Daily Journal--The Flushing Journal (1841).

Welcome to June 1885.

It was June 1885 – just twenty years after the American Civil War, the most destructive conflict in U.S. history. It was only eight years since the last occupation troops left the South. For several generations, until the Great Depression and the rise of Franklin Roosevelt, the Democrats would be a minority party in the country partly because the Republicans painted their opponents, the Democrats, as having pro–Southern and Confederate sympathies, a practice that came to be known as “waving the bloody shirt”.

Nevertheless, the previous year saw the first Democrat elected to the presidency in almost 30 years, Governor Grover Cleveland, who had a national reputation as an honest, anti–corruption reformer. Cleveland would go on to become the only chief executive to serve two nonconsecutive terms (1885–89 and 1893–97), making him both the 22nd and 24th U.S. president.

On June 5, the Weekly Star noted the fiftieth anniversary of the Reformed Dutch Church of Newtown Sabbath School. Assistant Superintendent George M. Williamson, gave the school’s history from its founding in 1835. The Star estimated that during the half century, the school had at least 3,100 students and staff. One current staff member had been with the institution for 45 years.

On June 12, the public read about the dedication ceremonies for St. Raphael’s Church in Blissville. During the period of construction (which began in 1881) the services were held in the building’s basement. The Star took note of the Church’s “superb stained glass windows, altar decorations and candelabras”. The paper also praised St. Raphael’s pastor, the Reverend Father Farrelly, for his “unflagging zeal and untiring energy” in seeing the project through to completion. Farrelly, born in County Cavan, Ireland, emigrated to the U.S. in 1866 where he completed his divinity studies at Our Lady of Angels near Niagara Falls. He was subsequently made assistant pastor of St. Vincent de Paul’s Church in Brooklyn and in 1879 appointed to his position at St. Raphael’s.

The baseball craze hit the New York metropolitan area as early as the mid-1850s and by 1856, journalists were already referring to it as the “national pastime”. On June 12, the Star reported on a match between The Astorias and The Jupiters at a lot on Broadway during the previous Saturday. The paper noted that the final score was 17 to 6 “in favor of the Astoria boys”.

The June 19 edition reported on the safe arrival of the Statue of Liberty to American shores. The origin of the project can be traced to a comment made by French law professor and politician, Edouard Rene de Leboulaye, in mid-1865. During the after dinner conversation at his home near Versailles, Leboulaye, an ardent supporter of the Union during the Civil War, said, “If a monument should arise in the United States as a memorial to their independence, I think it only natural that it should be built by a united effort – a common work of both our nations.” Leboulaye’s comment inspired one of his dinner guests, a young sculptor named Frederic Bartholdi, who designed and oversaw the construction of “Lady Liberty”.

The statue was presented as a gift from the people of France. Ordinary citizens and schoolchildren raised funds from all sectors of French society including donations. Committees to raise funds for the statue’s foundation and pedestal were established in New York, Boston and Philadelphia.

The Star noted that the statue would be 21 feet higher than the Trinity Church spire and 23 feet higher than the towers of the Brooklyn Bridge. The paper enthused that Bartholdi [incorrectly] as the “originator of the idea who had given his time and energy for years to the perfection of the figure, which is the largest piece of bronze statuary ever made.”

Also on June 19 the Star reported that Long Island City Mayor George Petry had vetoed a bill to provide medicine and medical services to the poor. Petry was born in Paterson, New Jersey, in 1833 and learned the trade of metal work in Manhattan. He relocated to Long Island City in 1866 where he established a large tin product factory. Petry got into politics in the late 1870s and first became Long Island City mayor in 1880. He was reelected in 1883 but was defeated for a third term by Patrick Jerome “Battle Axe” Gleason, when the latter first ran for mayor in 1886.

In his veto message, Petry said he had reason to believe that some of the persons to be assisted by the bill were not entitled to it. The Star chimed in to support Petry by stating: “If this is so, the sooner the methods of distributing relief to the poor of the city are investigated the better it will be for all concerned.”

Finally, the paper noted that there was a “great deal of comment” going around Long Island City about an ordinance originally passed in 1877 ordering the police to kill any stray dogs found without a muzzle on the streets, avenues, parks, squares or any other public place. Once again the Star was supportive of the powers that be opining “It is apparent that the police have a specific duty to perform under the ordinance and no blame can attach to them for faithfully carrying out the law.”

That is the way it was in June 1885!

From June 16 through 19, join the Greater Astoria Historical Society as we participate in the Queens Council on the Arts “June Queens Art Express”, a spring arts festival that features performances, exhibitions, art events and great places to eat in the unique cultural communities along the route of main veins of the borough. Check our Web site for time and details. Admission is free.

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