The Statue of Liberty has just celebrated her 125th Birthday with an all-day event that included fireworks and a ceremony turning 125 immigrants into U. S. citizens. She may be both the most famous statue in the world, as well as the most famous gift from one nation to another — from the people of France to the people of the United States.
The Statue of Liberty is of particular pride to the people of Alsace, which on the eastern side of France, bordering Germany and Switzerland, and where sculpture August Bartholdi is from, and their on-going connection the USA.
I attended a special Statue of Liberty birthday celebration sponsored by the government of France and the Alsace region, and I learned some famous Americans trace their roots to Alsace. They include —
Famous Americans with Alsace roots — Actor Marlon Brando, comedians Marx Brothers, NASA astronaut Russell Schweikart and World War I General John Pershing. Also, the founder of the Firestone tire company, and William Wyler, the Oscar-winning director William Wyler of such Hollywood icons as Ben-Hur, Funny Girl, Roman Holiday and Wuthering Heights. Plus, I can add my own maternal grandmother.
Thierry Kranzer, an Alsatian working as a United National official in New York, said Brando’s family name originally was spelled Brandau, the Marx Brothers changed their name from Schiliker, Pershing was originally Pfoersching, Firestone was Feuerstein, and Wyler was Weiler.
Besides arts and science, Alsace has had an important impact on American food and wine, through Alsatian chefs including Jean-George Vongerichten and Andre Soltner, whose legendary New York City restaurant Lutece probably did as much change our tastebuds a generation ago as Julia Childs and James Beard. As for wine, the first vineyards planted in the New World were by French Hugenots in the 1670s, in the Hudson Valley 100 miles north of New York City around New Paltz, named for Die Pfalz in the Alsace region.
Alsace continues to be an important wine-growing area, with more 70wine-producing villages and a 125-mile wine trail. The region specializes in light, fruity whites, including Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Gewurtztraminer.
Bartholldi Museum — The Bartholdi home in Colmar has been turned into a museum of his work, which includes sculptures and paintings, plus personal artifacts. And, yes, there are some drafts and original models of his sulptures, including his most famous one, the Statue of Liberty. The city of Mulhouse, a former textile capital, houses one of the world’s foremost collections of more than 400 historic vintage cars, including Bugatti, Hispano-Suiza, Rolls-Royce and Ferrari. The Schlumpf Collection National Automobile Museum is housed in a former textile mill.
The Statue of Liberty closed right after her birthday, for a year-long $275 million upgrade that includes new elevators and other safety renovations. The museum at her base remains open, National Park Service guides are on hand to answer visitor questions and give educational tours of Liberty Island, and there is no external scaffolding to mar her beauty. Visitors just can’t climb up inside. Click here for the official National Park Service website link.
Visits to the Statue of Liberty are via Statue Cruises. The ticket includes a stop at Ellis Island. The Staten Island Ferry passes close enough to the Statue of Liberty for a picture postcard view, but does not stop there.