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.
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.
20 feet tall, 15,000 pounds, she'd be hard to miss in a crowd anyway.
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.
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.
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.
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