What Happens When Men Argue Over Women's Clothing; The Freedom Statue, 1863

JPK Huson 1863

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#1
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Originally the work of Southern born men like Jefferson Davis and Northerners like Montgomery Meigs working together, the long planned Freedom Statue was finally raised onto our newly completed Capitol Dome, Dec. 2. 1863, smack in the middle of the war separating all of us.

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Here she is, 1865, a little forgotten already amidst construction debris and black, mourning ribbons for Lincoln.

And you thought statues were a big snore? Ha. It's possible we're all so used to incomprehensible symbolism draped over national monuments, no one finds this poor, garishly garnished woman at all remarkable. No wonder she's been all the way up there, a neck-craning blur on our Capitol Dome since 1863. It's what happens when men are allowed to blunder around a female's closet. Worse, politics were in that closet- and a looming war.
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20 feet tall, 15,000 pounds, she'd be hard to miss in a crowd anyway.
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Background to more famous, historic photographs than we remember, construction on our Capitol Dome fascinatingly progresses as the war grinds through Time. Crazy cool stuff. The thing is, the whole thing, topped by a confusingly named, commissioned statue, " The Freedom Statue " was planned and conceived long before Edward Ruffin's savage yank turned loose the pent-up bile of decades over Charleston Harbor.

Who was in charge, overseeing the commission by artist Thomas Crawford? Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis. It took awhile, during a time span inclusive of the FSA ( Fugitive Slave Act's ) appalling consequences, Stowe's staggering impact on already heightened tensions and increasing awareness there was just, plain no coming to any table set with recognizable flatware, North and South. Considering this massive statue, intended to represent ' America ' would either have to be 100 feet tall with 2 heads, in order to represent ' America ', Crawford continually found himself making changes.

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The plaster original sent from Rome, after Thomas Crawford's death. New hire Clark Mills and Phillip Reid, at the time enslaved, were left to solve the dead architect's mysteries. Reid did, to our vast benefit.


Thomas U. Walter, architect of the entire Capitol, in 1855 wished a glorious kind statue top the new dome of the. Capitol building. Female, with, pole wearing a 'cap' ( cap will be important ), Walter incorporated “Libertas” , first officially used in eighteenth-century emblem records. In our wars as a youthful nation, “Libertas” symbolized freedom from tyranny- used elsewhere extensively, no doubt an excellent symbol to stand guard over future invaders. . Crawford followed Walter’s lead, after accepting the commission- his version for our Statue of Freedom features long robes, sword and wreath, standing on a globe,-wearing the “Phrygian” cap - cap very, very important.
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Thomas Crawford's original " Freedom " Statur, with that darn cap.....

We've noticed she wears a heavy fall of feathers on her head- betokening a Native American. If this is the case, we certainly had a bizarre way of honoring those so honored- if the Freedom Statue is indeed a Native American, why were so many killed we still have no record of how many were here ( before Columbus was a twinkle in a queen's eye )?... Which leads us back to the cap.

Jefferson, as a plantation owner, one eye on distant drums, had less than no intention of any allusion to enslaved populations- ancient or no. He passed the word along to artist Crawford, through then supervising engineer Meigs ( Montgomery- don't these names flatten you? ), “Mr. Davis says that he does not like the cap of Liberty introduced into the composition ; American Liberty is original & not the liberty of the free slave.” Davis said ( through Meigs ) that cap that became a revolutionary symbol in France. They'd swiped it from the Romans- “the Roman custom of liberating slaves thence called freedmen & allowed to wear this cap.” Davis was relating manumission in ancient Rome; freed slaves covered newly shorn heads with the pileus cap while magistrates touched them with a rod -the vindicta. Our Capitol building was to be no part of that symbolism.

So, Crawford gave her helmet and eagle feathers, making " Liberty " more confusing-" Liberty " being an early, iconic symbol associated with America which did indeed incorporate an ' Indian ' princess, albeit wearing lucrative tobacco leaves. In some way I cannot fathom, the pole and pileus apparently represent a black body ( which, if it true, you're awfully happy to hear ), and this evocative, long-lived Minerva/Athena, Goddess of War, protector of civilization.

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She is incredibly striking- and intimidating. Obviously far post war, guessing these men ( taking a self portrait- note string ), were doing some story, press, or adventure seekers? Perhaps routine maintenance but they lack the clothing, albeit do seem dusty. On a roof? We'd all be dusty.

BUT get this- Crawford understandably fell over dead in 1857, leaving the statue to his widow to pack up and ship over here from Rome. Plaster only, its secrets in how-to-put-it-together were left to new architect Clark Mills, to figure out. For 10K in our dollars ( 400 bucks ), he had a shot. Well, brilliant enslaved man, Phillip Reid did. Before plaster could be turned to bronze, the joints planned by Crawford had to be figured out- but HOW? It was Reid, suggesting ropes be used, applying slow tension to those joints, pull them apart for inspection. It worked-why it was the crazy, cool, contentious, female, bronze statue finally made it up there, no matter what she finally wore, our African American, Greek, Native American, Roman immigrant, protecting our nation's capitol- if only someone had brought in their wife for some fashion advice, maybe she could come down once in awhile.

All LoC this time, delightfully so. Story from the big day, 1863

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#3
The statue was cast in 5 sections beginning in 1860 but was stopped before its completion in 1861 due to the start of the Civil War. The castings were not completed until the later months of 1862 but that did not prevent Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon Chase, from featuring her on the United States 1861 $5 notes.


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That is a very interesting story. I can understand why the fight over the clothing, to some it would have been an important point, to others, no. Congress makes a habit of fighting about everything. Even the most trivial of matters. The main thing is it did get made and put in place for all to see. She looks like a goddess of war to me though.
 
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#8
Great topic, thanks for sharing. My brother worked for the Architect of the Capitol for 35 years. He was fortunate enough to venture inside the dome all the way up to the top with one of the security guards and a structural engineer. This was like 25 years ago. Very tight and cramped the higher up you get. And real scary he said, so much of the original spiral staircases were rusting out at the time. I think PBS did a special on the Dome's restoration a few years ago while the work was in progress, it included a trip inside up to the top.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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Great topic, thanks for sharing. My brother worked for the Architect of the Capitol for 35 years. He was fortunate enough to venture inside the dome all the way up to the top with one of the security guards and a structural engineer. This was like 25 years ago. Very tight and cramped the higher up you get. And real scary he said, so much of the original spiral staircases were rusting out at the time. I think PBS did a special on the Dome's restoration a few years ago while the work was in progress, it included a trip inside up to the top.
No way! What a beyond fascinating job! Did they keep reminding him he was retired, when he persisted in showing up for work the 36th year? Guessing a lot of restoration took him into these stories- albeit hazardously so, if our fixers-of-History have to deal with those stairs.

Have to say now I can't hear a word of a news story if the anchor has the dome behind them- all kinds of distracted, thinking about Freedom and the mess we were in when she climbed up there.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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That is a very interesting story. I can understand why the fight over the clothing, to some it would have been an important point, to others, no. Congress makes a habit of fighting about everything. Even the most trivial of matters. The main thing is it did get made and put in place for all to see. She looks like a goddess of war to me though.

Yes, she does, mostly- Minerva/Athena was our ' Columbia '. Did a lot of sword brandishing and drooping over Presidential graves- not to mention guilting men into enlisting. The Roman allusion to her cap, used by Crawford was why Davis pitched such a fit, she now wears those feathers, instead- freed enslaved in Rome covered shaved heads with that cap. Davis didn't wish anyone making the mistake of feeling we liked the idea.

Funniest part of the whole story is Meigs being the go-between, explaining to poor Crawford each change he had to make.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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#12
It's more and more bizarre to me ( and no snark here, honest ), this statue, called " The Freedom Statue " was not at all meant to be hypocritical. They were sincere, poor guys.

But. Women couldn't vote, own property or really, use their own names for all intents and purposes. The FSA had just been passed when this hysterically named " Freedom " statue was commissioned- her torso is meant to represent black citizens. At the time 4 million were enslaved, the FSA ensured the rest could be swiped outa their shoes, free or no.And. Third element, Native Americans, held land we wanted very, very badly with predictable results. Well, already lost countless populations, enslaved more and countless more gone by the time ' Freedom " was raised to her new perch. Made in Rome, representing a Rome/Greek goddess, boy did we give immigrants a hard time. Ask the Irish. Crazy kind of statue.

Already did a thread on Columbia. Wish we would use her again, now that we can vote. AND maybe this time we chicks would be allowed to choose the wardrobe?
 

JPK Huson 1863

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#15
Bump for Black History Month. Not only are our black citizens represented in Lady Freedom ( even if Crawford lost the argument over her hat ), black artisan Phillip Reid helped put her on this country's ' most iconic symbol ' list.
 

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