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Restoring Lady Liberty

 

Driving north on Highway 281 across Smith County, Kansas, we looked left at the usual place, by the Gaylord Turnoff, for Lady Liberty. And she was gone. This was preposterous. Who would steal the Statue of Liberty?

 

Maybe we better go back to a more basic question, which is, what is Lady Liberty, or rather a 1/19th scale replica of her, doing in Smith County in the first place? Pretty much the same thing she does on the Red River bridge between Fargo, North Dakota, and Moorhead, Minnesota; at the corner of Boulevard and Second Street, in Edmond, Oklahoma; in Lions Park of Cheyenne, Wyoming; and in hundreds of other towns and cities across America.

 

The original Statue of Liberty, dedicated in New York Harbor in 1886, celebrated the friendship of the United States and France and their common values of human liberty. Over the years Lady Liberty came to mean other things, including the American Dream of immigrants who arrived on nearby Ellis Island.

 

During the Cold War the Statue of Liberty acquired another layer of meaning, representing patriotism and loyalty in the face of totalitarian communism. This inspired a campaign by Kansas City businessman and Boy Scout leader Jack P. Whitaker to assist local Boy Scout troops to place hundreds of replicas of the Statue of Liberty in communities across the country. The replicas were composed of copper sections seamed with lead. It was not known at the time, of course, that a half-century later, the speculative value of copper would pose a problem for the maintenance and restoration of the statues.

 

One of these replicas was emplaced by local scouts in Smith County. Individual local donors, according to the plaque nearby, included “C. A. Kalbfleisch and his daughters . . . Ada C. Caldwell and Virgie L. Baldwin.”

 

So, when we got to Smith Center, we enjoyed a meal at Duffy’s Steak House and asked some questions. It turns out that the local Lady Liberty—and this was not the first time—had suffered some vandalism, including bullet holes and some big holes that look like they were made by an ax. I figure the bullet holes were just senseless acts, but I suspect the larger holes were made by someone interested in salvaging the copper from the statue.

 

The Lady Liberty of Fargo, too, suffered damage from vandals, including having her arm ripped off, until her eventual restoration and rededication in 1987. The Edmond statue was recast and replaced as an Oklahoma centennial project in 2007, with the original copper statue going on exhibit in a museum. Similarly, a bronze recasting of the Cheyenne statue was rededicated in 2008, with the copper original going into storage in a scout leader’s garage.

 

We tracked the wounded Smith County statue to the Mace Body Shop, where Lady Liberty, although she looked a little incongruous there, was getting the restorative care she needed. Local caretakers say she will be re-established in her location along 281 once some improvements to the site have been concluded.

 

The Lady Liberty replicas across America, sad to say, have been targets of criminal mischief. “Weather and vandalism took a toll,” reports Scouting magazine. “Spikes were broken from the crown and the torch-carrying arm often was damaged. While some cities faithfully restored the statues, others simply junked them.”

 

The Lady Liberty of Fargo is the only known replica in North Dakota. If there are others, I would love to know about them.

 

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