In 1950, Boy Scouts Commissioner Jack Whitaker from Kansas City, Mo., came up with the idea of creating miniature Statues of Liberty to celebrate the Boy Scouts of America’s 40th anniversary. The idea was inspired after Whitaker saw a similar statue made of chicken wire and concrete in Spirit Lake, Iowa.
Whitaker hired the Friedley-Voshardt Co. of Chicago to fabricate the statues out of copper and then made them available to Scout councils across the nation.
“The one difference between the replica and the original in New York harbor is that the replica is a smiling statue — the curvature of the mouth has been modified from that of the original,” The Gazette reported.
The project ran into a snag when the National Sculpture Society registered a protest in April against what they called “bad imitations of the great piece of sculpture which is the symbol of our freedom.” Sixty of the statues had already been placed in 22 states, with more than 100 more on order.
Where to put it
The Waubeek Area Council Boy Scouts — which covered Linn, Jones and Benton counties — ordered one of the statues, with the 2,700 Waubeek scouts paying for the $300 statue by donating 10 cents to 25 cents each. The gift also noted the council’s 25th anniversary.
The statue was about 8.5 feet tall and 16 feet when mounted on a base. It was one of 206 erected in 36 states — 26 of them in Iowa.
The scouts asked the Cedar Rapids City Council on Jan. 19, 1950, to place the 290-pound Lady Liberty replica on the newly landscaped Plaza on May’s Island.
“At present there are no statues or monuments in the city. We are one of the few cities that doesn’t have any. I would recommend this very highly, and I think the Plaza would be a good place for it,” Parks Commissioner Richard C. Jones said.
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But the next day, a Gazette editorial questioned the wisdom of that site, reminding the public that the statue’s location was important.
“We presume the Boy Scouts and their advisors have explored the possibilities of sites for the replica other than the Plaza. If not, we wonder if it wouldn’t be advisable to do so before the final decision is made.”
The editorial also recommended designating who was responsible for maintaining it.
While that debate went on, the Waubeek Council presented a Scout Circus, “Adventure — That’s Scouting,” at Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Feb. 10-11. More than 2,000 Scouts participated, and the replica Statue of Liberty was wheeled into the arena.
On May 7, 1950, the City Plan Commission — charged with recommending a site — decided the statue should be put in the south-central part of Greene Square. The Scouts and Commissioner Jones were willing to change their minds about the Plaza site.
City planners tacked on two conditions: It might be necessary to move the monument in the future; and the Boy Scouts would be responsible for the statue’s care.
Asked why the City Plan Commission chose Greene Square, Commissioner Theodore Paulson said, “We planned it to face the intersection of Fifth Street and Third Avenue SE because centered there are a public library, a free press and a religious building” — referring to the Carnegie Library (now home to the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art), First Presbyterian Church and The Gazette.
City’s first statue
The placement of Lady Liberty in the square gave Cedar Rapids its very first public statue.
Its pedestal was built by members of the American Federation of Labor and paid for by members of the Cedar Rapids Building and Construction Trades Council.
The dedication was scheduled for 3:45 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 22, but was delayed when bad weather grounded the plane of Iowa Gov. William Beardsley, the event’s main speaker. Beardsley and his wife hopped a train to Iowa City, and the Highway Patrol brought them to Cedar Rapids, arriving at about 5.
The statue was accepted by Gazette Editor Harry Boyd on behalf of the community.
A plaque on the base reads, “With the faith and courage of their forefathers who made possible the freedom of the United States, the Boy Scouts of America dedicate this replica of the Statue of Liberty as a pledge of everlasting fidelity and loyalty on the 40th anniversary of the Crusade to Strengthen the Arm of Liberty — 1950.”
Restoration and move
Five years later, the deteriorating condition of Lady Liberty was pointed out when the Eagles Lodge asked to put a Ten Commandments monolith on public property. This time, the Parks Commission required the Eagles to set up a $50-a-year fund for maintenance.
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By 1985, a Gazette reporter noticed that Lady Liberty was dented and missing a few prongs on her headpiece, likely the result of vandalism. Local metal workers repaired the statue, using lead filler and bronze auto body paint.
Plans to move Lady Liberty from Greene Square to May’s Island in 2003 were delayed by concern she would be too accessible to vandals. Nonetheless, she moved in June 2003 to the north end of the island, just in time for the Freedom Festival.
When the Cedar River crested at a record level in 2008, causing immense damage to the community, Lady Liberty was not spared. The statue was swept off her pedestal. Retired members of the Sheet Metal Workers union spent more than 300 hours restoring her.
She still stands, torch held high, in a landscaped spot on the island.
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