Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Liberty Enlightening the World

New York City, 

The 125th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty in 2011 was celebrated with the issuance of a “forever” stamp. The new stamp turned out to be an embarrassment when it was later discovered that it was based on the half-size replica that stands in front of the New York-New York Casino in Las Vegas. Despite the mistake, the U.S. Post Office decided to stick with the design, explaining, “We still love the stamp design and would have selected this photograph anyway…Our track record is excellent for this as far as we’re concerned.”

The post office has slipped up before. In 1918, it issued the “Inverted Jenny,” a 24-cent stamp depicting an upside-down Curtiss biplane. Only a hundred of these defective stamps were sold before the postal authorities abruptly halted sales. Many people thought the post office should have done the same thing this time and recalled the stamp. Originally created to commemorate our alliance with France during the American Revolution, the meaning of the bronze icon evolved over time, eventually becoming a universal symbol of freedom. Seventeen menus with illustrations of the statue tell the story of its history.

Currier & Ives, 1885

One of its earliest appearances was on this menu made by Tiffany & Co for a banquet at Delmonico's in 1885, welcoming the officers of the S. S. Isère, the French frigate that brought the dismantled statue to the United States, packed in 214 wooden crates. Originally conceived as a centennial gift, the statue arrived almost ten years late.

Sorbet Young America, one of the standard sherbets in Delmonico’s repertoire, marked the transition between the first and second service. It was normally served in small sugar boats decorated with an American flag, making it a good choice for farewell banquets. However, in keeping with the theme of this dinner, the little ships flew the colors of both nations. Indeed, there was great enthusiasm for all things French that evening; the New Yorkers cheered every mention of France and Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor who created the statue. Nevertheless, it still had to be reassembled before it could be dedicated the following year.

Ironically, the enthusiastic patricians who organized this banquet had only recently become interested in the project. Realizing its popular appeal, Joseph Pulitzer, the owner and editor of the New York World, organized a campaign to raise money when it appeared that the statue’s pedestal would not be completed. “Let us not wait for the millionaires to give this money,” Pulitzer urged his readers who were the average citizens of the city. However, once all the work was completed, the ruling elite hopped on the bandwagon, taking center stage at the dedication ceremony. Artist Edward Moran depicted the monumental event on October 28, 1886, showing the area festooned with French and American flags.

The trade card shown below, featuring the “Bartholdi Statue,” comes from the Novelty restaurant in lower Manhattan. This modest eatery was situated fewer than three miles from the statue as the birds flew—either the migratory birds lucky enough to miss slamming into the 305-foot structure newly erected in their path, or the house sparrows that were busily building nests in the statue, causing immediate consternation as to how long the structure might last.2 It is easy to understand the birds’ confusion. Skyscrapers were still unknown in 1886; the first such office building was just then being built in Chicago. Using the same technology, French engineer Gustave Eiffel designed the internal steel-and-wrought-iron framework to support the statue’s thin outer-copper sheathing (less than two pennies thick) three years before he erected the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

On the rare occasions that the statue appeared on a menu, it was usually on one from an eatery in New York or a transatlantic ship. However, when the Palace Hotel in Cincinnati celebrated Independence Day in 1889, it provided its guests with an eighteen-page booklet entitled “Rays from Liberty’s Torch,” featuring the holiday menu, various poems, and six lithographed scenes of New York Harbor. Shown in part below, the booklet includes a view of the Brooklyn Bridge which opened in 1883.

Reminiscent of its official name “Liberty Enlightening the World,” a brilliant electric light was installed in the torch, as shown in this charming night-scene of the statue greeting the S. S. Normannia in 1895. Causing the statue to resemble a lighthouse, the light was removed a few years later, when electricity was no longer a novel new technology. Some of inventor Thomas Edison’s other promotional schemes were not adopted, such as his proposal to install a phonograph in the mouth so that the statue could talk and whistle to ships passing by in the harbor.

Named after the French sculptor, the Bartholdi Hotel opened on the corner of 23rd Street and Broadway in 1885, during the same year that the statue arrived. Overlooking Madison Square Park, the staid-looking Bartholdi Hotel hosted three illegal, no-limit poker games during most hours of the day. The illicit stream of cash was shared democratically, police headquarters receiving three unmarked envelopes from the Bartholdi each morning. This à la carte dinner menu from 1897 has a small illustration of its namesake in the upper corner.

Expressed their personal ideals of freedom, the management of the Manhattan Hotel on 42nd Street  invited Dr. Booker T. Washington to stay at their hotel whenever he was in New York. In fact, it was the only fine hotel in the city to extend a standing invitation to the prominent African-American educator. Printed on card stock lithographed in Paris, this 1899 menu features an array of American cultural images, such as the cigar store Indian the takes center stage, relegating the statue to the background.

Reflecting the growth of tourism, the menu below from the North Western Hotel in Liverpool, England offers greetings to their American patrons on July 4, 1907.

Celebrating Independence Day in 1914, the menu below is dated only a month before the outbreak of the World War I. As a result, the German liner Imperator, the largest passenger ship in the world, became trapped in New York for the duration of the war. Afterward, the 52,000-ton liner was used to bring back American troops, before being handed over to Britain as part of war reparations. Rechristened R. M. S. Berengaria, she sailed as the Cunard Line’s flagship during the final decade of her career.

Dated July 4, 1918, the menu shown below was printed for a municipal event at the Botanical Gardens in Liverpool, welcoming American troops during World War I.

 Created as a symbol of our friendship with France, the statue was naturally included on this banquet menu in 1921, honoring Ferdinand Foch, the Marshal of France during the war. Due to the recent onset of Prohibition, it appears that wine was not served at Philadelphia's Bellevue-Stratford Hotel that day. It is interesting that Apollinaris, a mineral water imported from Germany, was selected as the beverage of choice for the visiting French general.

The Statue of Liberty was declared a National Monument in 1924. Being situated next to Ellis Island, it is not surprising that the statue came to represent the willingness of the United States to open its doors to immigrants. The menu below from the S. S. Albert Ballin features a bird’s-eye view of the ship as it enters New York Harbor through the Verrazano Straits. Cuxhaven, the port of embarkation for those leaving Germany on the Hamburg-America Line, is depicted on the other side of the ocean. What thrilled me about finding this particular menu was the fact that immigration records show that my grandfather was on board the Ballin that day in January 1927, coming to the United States to begin a new life. This menu is from the so-called “farewell dinner,” held the day before he stepped ashore in his adopted land.

This illustration of the neoclassical statue exudes confidence and stability. Dated March 1929, this menu from the North German Lloyd’s S. S. Columbus appeared only seven months before the stock market crashed, ushering in the Great Depression.

The menu below from the S. S. Bremen is dated March 28, 1930, the same day that the scaffolding was removed from the newly-completed Chrysler Building, making the Art Deco masterpiece the world’s tallest structure. As indicated by the pencil marks, the second-class passenger who saved this menu ordered a large lunch that included canapés, pea soup, German beef steak with Lyonnais potatoes, pompadour salad, candied sweet potatoes, apple cake with cream, and coffee.

The statue is a patriotic image, especially in times of war. This Thanksgiving menu from S. S. Brazil in 1944 shows that the Moore McCormack Line continued to depict the iconic statue on its menus, even after its passenger ships were converted to army transport vessels during World War II.

This menu comes from the 372nd Station Hospital at Kalaikunda, showing that American forces were still at the base on Thanksgiving in 1945, three months after Japan surrendered. Originally built by the British, this airfield in West Bengal was upgraded by the U. S. Army Air Force in 1943 for Superfortress operations, becoming one of four B-29 bases in India. In addition to the dinner menu shown below, this homemade contains the roster for the 200-bed hospital and notices for the recreational activities on the holiday.

The U.S. military menu below comes from Japan during the early days of the Allied Occupation. Held on November 29, this dinner occurred a week after the official Thanksgiving holiday in 1945, perhaps as a result of the chaotic conditions in Japan after the war. Printed slightly askew by a local printer in Sapporo, this unusual trapezoidal menu was made for the 77th Infantry Division headquarters on the northern island of Hokkaido.

Described as a “masterpiece of the human creative spirit,” the Statue of Liberty was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1984. Two years later, Pan American World Airways printed this menu to commemorate its hundredth anniversary. In contrast to the Edward Moran’s painting, which showed a profusion of French and American flags at the dedication ceremony in 1886, this lively scene by artist Dong Kingman includes the flags of many nations, reflecting the fact that the statue had become a universal symbol of freedom for people around the world.

It is here that the historic chronology ends, for the Statue of Liberty has rarely appeared on menus over the last fifty years. In fact, you are as likely to find its image on a menu as you are to be served a sparkling glass of  Domaine Chandon Blanc de Noirs on a domestic flight (shown above). Without the graphic art on menus to guide us, we are left wondering how its meaning may have evolved in recent years. Perhaps the post office was right in not recalling the defective stamp; maybe the faux statue in a fake cityscape, camouflaging a real casino on the Strip, is symbolic of our age.

New York-New York Casino

1. Charles Ranhofer, The Epicurean, New York, 1894.
2. Introduced into Brooklyn in the 1850s, the population of English sparrows in New York grew to enormous proportions by the late nineteen century. Calling them an “unmitigated nuisance,” the New York Times suggested that they all be poisoned, or trapped and eaten, claiming that restaurants commonly served them as “rice birds.” Their numbers eventually fell when the horses began to disappear from the streets of Manhattan. New York Times, 21 July 1889.

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