Statue of Liberty replica makes 1,000-mile road trip to its new home in Sauget
Emery Cox looked up from his phone. “There’s the Statue of Liberty,” he said.
A flatbed truck pulled into a gravel parking lot surrounded by spirals of train tracks and mazes of industrial manufacturing plants. A 27-foot replica of the famed monument in New York Harbor rested on wooden blocks, lashed to the back of the truck with yellow straps.
Sauget is now Little Liberty’s new home. When it arrived on Thursday, a well-wisher stood in the sun and played "New York, New York” on saxophone to welcome the statue to the Metro East.
The century-old statue began its 1,000-mile journey in Brooklyn on Monday night and arrived at the National Building Arts Center in the Metro East on Thursday afternoon. The statue is made of sheet metal and has a spiral staircase inside.
“It's actually a little bit more detailed than I thought,” said Cox, the center’s archives and collections manager. For at least an hour, he tracked the statue’s location on his phone as it moved slowly toward the museum.
“It's hard to capture some of the fine lines that I see now, in the photographs,” he said. “We have to admit that it's a showpiece.”
The preservation-focused museum maintains a large library of historic building documents and collects remnants of old buildings and architectural artifacts — including stones, old pipes and signs. It plans to rehabilitate the statue and display it at its front entrance.
“It’s arriving here for a very prominent display that I think really signifies that we are the National Building Arts Center, not just the Regional Museum,” said Michael Allen, the center’s executive director.
The Brooklyn Museum donated the piece to the center, which also maintains collections of historical architectural artifacts from Chicago, Philadelphia and other cities. The Brooklyn Museum now focuses more on contemporary art, Allen said, and wanted to find a new home for the statue.
The Building Arts Center paid to transport the huge object across the country. Allen traveled to Brooklyn to see it off.
“It found its way through Manhattan, it actually went up Third Avenue in the middle of the night, through Harlem over to New Jersey, and then basically followed Interstate 70 through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois,” he said. “A very long journey, and I'm sure many people saw it on the back of this trailer.”
Allen said it attracted attention on its journey — one reason the center wanted to bring it to Sauget.
“Having its likeness is a boon for any institution that's calling itself the home of where you can learn about the nation's building traditions,” he said. “But it's also a very interesting example of pressed metal, the same company that made this in Ohio made everything from roof tile to kitchen cabinets out of metal. So this is a real showpiece.”
St. Louis-based HWP Rigging transported the statue.
The logistics of moving the 8,500-pound statue weren’t much different than moving any other heavy piece of equipment, said Matt Corwin, an HWP mechanic. But the reaction from people who saw it on the road was different than what he was used to.
“It was tons and tons of cars and slowing down taking pictures,” he said. “A couple of workers in Brooklyn thought we were taking the real one. I had a group of school buses that when we passed, they all popped up and took pictures, hanging out the windows.”
The statue isn’t ready to be mounted on its custom 20-foot pedestal, Cox said. It needs about $50,000 of work to restore the inside structure and repair the rust that has begun to grow over Little Liberty’s feet. The museum is raising money to help pay for the repairs.
The statue’s arrival marks a milestone in a project that’s been more than five years in the making, he said. The National Building Arts Center founder, preservationist Larry Giles, was talking to staff at the Brooklyn Museum about acquiring the piece as early as 2017.
Giles died in 2021 of cancer.
“He really wanted to see this,” Cox said. “This was going to be kind of a pivot point from ‘We're not on the map’ to ‘We’re on the map.’ I hope he would be extremely proud that we finally managed to get it here.”