June 17, 2015

It Happened on June 17th

Statue of Liberty Arrives in New York, 1885

Ms. Liberty had to be reassembled after she got here.
The story of the Statue of Liberty begins with a dinner party held by Edouard Rene de Laboulaye in 1865. Laboulaye was a French author, poet, and jurist, and a great admirer of the United States. After dinner that night, he remarked to his guests, "If a monument should rise in the United States, as a memorial to their independence, I should think it only natural if it were built by united effort -- a common work of both our nations."

One of Laboulaye's guests that night was a young sculptor named Frederic Bartholdi. The words made an impression on him and he and Laboulaye would frequently discuss it over the next few years.

Six years later, Bartholdi was preparing to visit the United States. He brought letters of introduction from Laboulaye, and was prepared to discuss the possibility of such a project with certain influential Americans. As he arrived in New York Harbor, he caught sight of Bedloe Island -- the island now known as Liberty Island -- and thought it would be a perfect spot for the monument. He was even happier with the location when he learned that it belonged to the United States government. A national monument, he thought, should belong to no one state.

Bartholdi met with President Grant and with a number of influential New Yorkers. He also traveled across the United States by train encountering many Americans who supported the idea. Getting it funded would be another matter, however, and Bartholdi reluctantly concluded that the time was not yet ripe.

Frederick Auguste Bartholdi
Over the next four years, Bartholdi worked quietly on the project. The statue was given a name, Liberty Enlightening the World. The personification of Liberty was a popular subject in both France and the United States. Bartholdi's depiction differed from the popular French portrayals of Liberty in that the French Liberty was often shown as a figure of violence and revolution. Bartholdi envisioned instead a stately and dignified figure, carrying the torch of progress.

The face of Liberty is said to have been modeled on Bartholdi's mother, and the figure is that of his wife. One early design was planned that showed her wearing a pileus, a Roman cap that was worn by emancipated slaves, but it was feared that it would be taken as an abolitionist symbol. Instead, Liberty wears a tiara, or halo. The seven rays emanating from it symbolize the seven seas, the seven continents, or the sun itself.

There was also an early plan for Liberty to hold a severed chain in her hands, but, like the pileus, it was considered too controversial in the days immediately following the Civil War. There is a broken chain there, but it lies on the ground, and is half-hidden by her robes. From the ground, it is difficult to see.

In her left hand, Liberty holds a tablet, a symbol of Law. Bartholdi was a great admirer of the United States Constitution, but that is not what Liberty holds. Instead, the tablet is labeled "JULY IV MDCCLXXVI", the date of the Declaration of Independence.

The arrangement that was finally decided on was that France would pay for the statue, and the United States would fund the pedestal. Bartholdi raised funds for the French portion by special events aimed at the rich and powerful. Donations came from every strata of society, however -- even children donated to the cause.

Emma Lazarus wrote the poem.
The torch-bearing arm was completed in time for the United States Centennial Exhibition. It did not arrive until late in the Exhibition, but was a popular attraction nonetheless. Fairgoers could climb up into the arm and look out over the fairgrounds. After the close of the Exhibition, the arm was exhibited at Madison Square Park in New York for several years.

The next portion exhibited was the head of the statue, which was finished in time for the Paris World's Fair in 1878.

Then Bartholdi hit a snag. The original plan had been for the copper skin of the statue to be assembled over a brick pier. That part of the project had been under the direction of Eugene Viollet-le-Duc, an architect and former teacher of Bartholdi's. Viollet-le-Duc, however, died in 1879, and had left no directions as to exactly how this was to be accomplished.

Looking for another solution, Bartholdi enlisted the help of Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, who later became known to the world through his most famous creation, the Eiffel Tower. Eiffel decided to use an iron truss tower instead of a brick pier. By having a structure that was not completely rigid, he hoped to avoid damage as the statue was assailed by the winds in the New York Harbor. The new plan had the additional advantage of allowing the statue to be built in France, and then taken apart and reassembled in New York.

Meanwhile, in the United States, fundraising was pursued for the creation of the pedestal. It wasn't an easy job. Some felt that American monuments should be designed and built by Americans. Money was tight in general, and difficult to raise for public works. In addition, the popular taste of the time ran toward realistic depictions of events -- symbolism was just not in style.

One effort at fundraising was an auction of art and literary works, for which Emma Lazarus was asked to provide an original poem. She at first declined, being not much interested in the project. Later, however, she reconsidered, having thought of a way to tie the statue in with one of her real interests, the plight of refugees who had come to New York from anti-Semitic areas of Eastern Europe. The result was her sonnet, The New Colossus, now inscribed on a plaque at the base of the statue. "Give me your tired, your poor,/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," will be forever associated with the Statue of Liberty.

Night Attack by Vlad the Impaler, 1462

Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia
Vlad III is undoubtedly one of the models for the character, Dracula. He did go by that name, in fact. His father, Vlad II, was known as Vlad Dracul, "Vlad the Dragon." His son, naturally, was known as "the son of the Dragon."

All this business about dragons refers to the Order of the Dragon, a chivalric order that was founded in Hungary in the 15th century. The Order dedicated themselves to protecting Christianity -- especially the from the Ottoman Turks. Both Vlads were proud of their membership in the Order.

The conflicts between Hungary and the Ottoman Empire were the framework of Vlad III's life. His father became Voivode of Wallachia in 1436, but lost his throne to Hungarian-supported rivals in 1442. In order to regain it, he courted the support of the Ottomans, and sent two of his sons as hostages to the Ottoman Court. One of them was Vlad Jr.

Vlad was rebellious and outspoken, and was whipped and punished in his captivity. He grew to hate the Turks, the Sultan, his own brother (who converted to Islam), and especially young prince Mehmed II.

Vlad really hated the Sultan.
After a time, the Wallachian boyars, under the leadership of the Hungarian John Hunyadi, rebelled against Vlad Senior and killed him and his oldest son. The Ottomans responded by reconquering Wallachia and putting Vlad III on the throne, not having any better solution to the problem.

It wasn't a lasting solution. Hunyadi invaded again, put one of his men on the throne, and Vlad had to leave Wallachia. Eventually, he worked his way back to Hungary, and made the acquaintance of Hunyadi, who was impressed with his hatred for the Turks, and with how much he knew about them.

To make a long story short, there were lots of battles, and eventually Vlad III ended up as ruler of Wallachia again. The country was in pretty bad shape. Not the least of his problems were the boyars, the hereditary noblemen who were not only undermining his authority, but throwing the whole area into a state of almost constant warfare.

So, he got rid of them. He killed as many as possible, and promoted peasants, underlings, and foreigners. He wanted to know that the people in the key slots were his men.

The envoys didn't doff their hats.
In 1459, Pope Pius II called for a Crusade against the Ottoman Turks, and Vlad was all for it. Vlad's boyhood nemesis, Prince Mehmed, was now Sultan. When Mehmed sent to Vlad to demand tribute, Vlad claimed that the envoys had refused to doff their hats to him, so he had their turbans nailed to their heads. It was as good a pretext for war as any.

In the winter of 1462, Vlad's army killed about 24,000 Bulgars, "without counting those whom we burned in homes or the Turks whose heads were cut by our soldiers." The Mehmed responded by sending 90,000 men after him. Vlad only had about 40,000, so he had to rely on ambushes, and small attacks.

The Night Attack of Târgoviste

One such attack was the one that took place on the night of June 17, 1462. Vlad disguised himself as a Turk and entered the Turkish camp, wandering around freely and studying the general layout as he looked for Mehmed's tent.

Mehmed had given orders that his men were to remain in their tents that night, which made the attack by Vlad's troops that much easier. Vlad's real object, however, was to assassinate Mehmed, and at that he failed. (He went to the wrong tent.) It wasn't a particularly effective attack, as far as the number of Turks killed went, but Vlad did manage to kill a great number of horses and camels.

The following day the Turks pursued the Wallachians, and Mehmed decided to take possession of Vlad's capital, which was undefended. As they approached the capital, the Turks found the road lined -- for a distance of about 60 miles -- with the impaled bodies of about 30,000 impaled Turks.
They retreated.

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