Liberty National statue

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The Liberty National statue in its original setting, c. 1963

The Liberty National statue is a 30-foot-tall, 1/5th scale bronze replica of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi's "Liberty Enlightening the World" which has stood in New York Harbor since 1886. The replica was commissioned by Birmingham's Liberty National Life Insurance Company in the 1950s and installed atop their downtown headquarters building at 300 20th Street South in 1958.

Liberty National president Frank Samford, Sr suggested having the statue, long used as the company's emblem, placed on the building as early as 1952. The board approved of the idea and the Chicago-based German-American sculptor Lee Lawrie and his son Archer were awarded the commission to produce a plaster original from which a casting could be made. No American firm could be found to perform the casting, so the plaster original was sent to Sommervoire, Haut Marne, France to be cast by the Société Anonyme des Éstablissements Métallurgiques A. Durenne et du Val d'Osne in 1956.

The mould was designed and produced at the forge. To save weight, the bronze statue was designed as a hollow shell supported by a steel armature. Once the casting was produced, it was given a chemical treatment to enhance its patination and make it more closely resemble the copper statue in New York. It was also fitted with a gas-fueled torch complete with an electrical spark emitter to re-light the torch in case high wind snuffed the flame.

Before sending her off, the foundry held its own dedication ceremony. The statue was then enclosed in a watertight steel box measuring 13 feet wide and 14 feet tall for its trans-Atlantic voyage. It was shipped to the Port of New Orleans on the S. S. Velma Lykes and there transferred to a hat car on the Southern Railway for the final 355-mile journey to Birmingham.

Red Fletcher and Red Vance of Ironworkers Local 92 worked on preparations for the statue's installation on the building. Their names appear on a plaque affixed to her head.

On September 13, 1958 an unveiling ceremony was held on the sidewalk in front of the Liberty National Building. The ceremony, attended by Archer Lawrie, included speeches and music provided by a brass band. The statue was unveiled by Frank Samford III. Over the course of an hour, a 12-man crew from Brice Building Company used a crane to lift the 10-ton statue 175 feet to its perch. The total cost of the project was reported to be more than $100,000.

In 1961 the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania awarded the company an "Honor Certificate" in recognition of the project's patriotic value. On May 31, 1962 Liberty National began offering visitors a close-up look at the statue, as well as a small exhibit of informational material related to it. The company hired thirteen "Liberty Belles", "personable, attractive" young ladies dressed in patriotic attire representing the original colonies, to lead 40-minute "Tip Top Tours" of the exhibit and sculpture. Tours were given at 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM each business day.

Liberty's torch was extinguished in recognition of the energy crisis of the 1970s and relit on the occasion of the release of hostages from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in January 1981.

In the 1980s Liberty National's holding company, Torchmark partnered with the Drummond Company to develop Liberty Park, an expansive residential, office, retail and golf development that was soon annexed into Vestavia Hills. The Liberty National statue was removed from their downtown building and relocated to a new tower on a landscaped lawn visible from I-459 near the entrance.

Preliminary plans for the relocated statue included converting the torch for electric lighting, but Alagasco lobbied to preserve the gas-fired flame. The dedication was held on July 4, 1989.

Gallery

References

  • "A Ten - Ton Lady Rides the Southern" (October 1958) TIES, The Southern Railway System Magazine
  • Samford, Frank P, Jr (October 3, 1984) Torchmark Corporation: History of a New Company. Birmingham: Newcomen Society address.