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Letting the Statue of Liberty’s Copper Shine Again

George J. Ziogas

The Statue of Liberty is one of the most familiar icons in the world and everyone sees her as this giant green goddess
Statue of LibertyPhoto byTHANANIT/Adobe Stock

What color is the Statue of Liberty? The obvious answer is green. That’s what she is in our minds, on T-shirts, and in the resin replicas around the world. Lady Liberty looks good in green, and most of us have never had any reason to think of her in any other color. But she wasn’t always this way.

Once upon a time, when she was a shiny new gift from the French in 1885, the nation saw the full glory of her copper metal body. She had a metallic glow that, to be honest, is lacking in her current form. There’s no doubt that this color would work in today’s culture. There’s a nice aesthetic quality to the rich firey tones against the New Jersey skyline.

So what happened? How did she lose her glow, and is there any chance of her getting it back? More importantly, should she get that copper tone back even if she could?

Lady Liberty Earned Her Green Color Over Time

Let’s start with why she’s green. Lady Liberty has been watching over these amber waves of grain and purple mountains for over a century now. Understandably, she’s looking her age, and that’s why she’s green and not copper.

Copper metals develop a patina called verdigris when exposed to the elements, and there’s no hiding from the stormy salty water of the Eastern Seaboard in New York Harbor. She’s been battered by wind and rain while welcoming those huddled masses yearning for freedom. Over time, the green set in, and the copper faded. There are some small areas untouched by the weather where you can see the original color, but you have to know where to look.

Turning Lady Liberty Copper Again

The idea of bringing the Statute of Liberty back to her old self is intriguing for everyone who never got to see her in her full glory. Wouldn’t it be fun to give her a little spa treatment and help her get that youthful glow back again?

It isn’t impossible. Treatments are available where worn copper statues and roofs are power-washed and treated to remove the patina and allow them to return to their former glory. But is it worth it with the Statue of Liberty?

The argument for doing so is pretty simple. It would look cool and be quite a statement for New York. It would make her an even bigger tourist trap and extremely Instagrammable with the TikTok generation. On the flip side, we’re so used to marketing this giant green goddess that it would look pretty weird, and the appeal may wear off faster than the color.

Eventually, she’d turn green again naturally, so we could undo the process without too much time or effort. Yet, we have to consider the expense of turning her copper again in the first place. Do we really want to do that to such a large structure in a time when water is a luxury? Do we want chemicals flying around the harbor?

Do We Even Want Her to Be Copper?

The biggest obstacle to this lofty idea is that people don’t seem to be that keen on the idea. A recent poll showed a majority in favor of her staying green. The idea of a copper Lady Liberty apparently isn’t appealing or meaningful to generations of New Yorkers that grew up appreciating the green statue and all it stood for.

The symbolism of the Statue of Liberty means more than aesthetics. Something in the endurance and age of the statue is comforting, especially to those who see her when first arriving in the country. All these years later, she remains a strong symbol of perseverance and freedom that’s weathered the worst life throws at her. A shiny Lady Liberty with a facelift just wouldn’t be as endearing.

So, when the time comes to plan for the 150th birthday of this old girl, the best thing we can do is acknowledge her decision to grow old gracefully and see the beauty in what she’s become. Copper is cool, but it isn’t her.

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