Perhaps the most recognisable icon of American liberty is the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island in New York. As well as liberty, it represents the opportunities of the American dream. For millions of immigrants in the 20th century, it was their first sight of the United States and all its fabled promises. At the very apex is the torch, held up in "Lady Liberty's" right hand.
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The torch literally symbolises enlightenment, which is in keeping with the statue's official title: "Liberty Enlightening the World." The Statue of Liberty was designed by a Frenchman, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi. France shares with the U.S. a common heritage: Both countries began as great national experiments in democracy founded on the principles of the Enlightenment.
The torch is lit from within, making it clearly visible at night from any direction. Several different lighting schemes were used in the past. Currently, 16 large floodlights provide light. The torch is visible about 24 miles out to sea in clear conditions. In fact, the Statue of Liberty once served, in addition to its role as a national icon, as a functioning lighthouse. It was not considered very useful, however, and that role evaporated in 1902.
The torch stands roughly 300 feet above ground level, and 150 feet above the base of the statue itself. At such a height, it sways as much as 5 inches when the wind is gusting at a stiff 50 miles per hour. The statue's tall height and copper sheen make it a prime target for lightning strikes; when that happens, the bolts often pass through the torch.
The original torch was replaced in 1986, a century after the Statue of Liberty was dedicated. The original torch had been deemed unfit for renovation, and so was removed and installed in the Statue of Liberty's adjacent museum.
The torch is closed to the public, and has been ever since the Black Tom explosion in 1916 (during World War I), which was a suspected act of German terrorism. The explosion did not actually occur at the Statue of Liberty; rather, it happened at an American munitions depot on nearby Black Tom Island. Fragments from the explosion damaged the torch and the statue's arm, and the torch was closed. Currently, the only people who climb up there are maintenance workers from the National Park Service.
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