Statue of Liberty inspires collector

July 4, 2009 at 3:46 pm Leave a comment

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

— Emma Lazarus poem inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty

Charlotte Bartosh found the Statue of Liberty so appealing, she began collecting a few souvenirs of the statue in New York Harbor in her teens and continued into her married years. But after her divorce 24 years ago, the Swissvale woman began collecting in earnest examples of Lady Liberty, giving the icon personal symbolism in addition to its national meaning.

“What she represents is equality,” says the independent Bartosh, manager of a science laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University who raised her daughter and two nieces after her sister died.

Bartosh, who bought her two-story home 17 years ago on her own, encourages guests to use the bathroom in the basement without telling them why. When they emerge from the basement, they’re usually full of questions and comments about her extensive collection of 600 Statue of Liberty figures, lights, lighters, ashtrays, throws, pictures, beer steins, stamps — all of which decorate the downstairs family room.

On wooden shelves built onto one wall, Bartosh has grouped three-dimensional collectibles by type: Statue of Liberty beer steins on one shelf, Liberty snow globes on another, lighters on a third, cookie cutters on a fourth and so on. Bartosh has a tiny sewing kit with the Statue of Liberty on it, along with various compacts, a thermometer, three-dimensional puzzles, belt buckles and Christmas ornaments, to name just a few.

“It’s so much fun to get a kid down here and show them everything,” says Bartosh, who prefers not to give her age.

“Everything” includes items beside those on the shelves. One of the most dominant is a large Statue of Liberty lamp, a gift from a friend. The base is a metal reproduction of Lady Liberty with a light globe in place of the torch. Bartosh has placed it on a table in a corner, where it illuminates the entire room.

Bartosh recalls a family event that helped crystallize her own views on what it means to be an American. A native of Kentucky, she was very young when a cousin sent ahead word he intended to visit their small hometown of Elkatawa, near Jackson, Ky., with his bride, a native of Korea, several years after the Korean War.

“Everyone at church was in an uproar,” Bartosh says. “I didn’t understand why she got that kind of reception. I had never heard the people at the church say anything bad about anyone. They hadn’t even met her yet. That made a big impression on me.”

Bartosh says to her being an American “means equality for everyone. It should mean trying to accept everybody’s differences, whether it be religion, color, national origin or political. Isn’t that what it means? At least, it does to me.”

Some years later, after her father moved the family to McKees Rocks, Bartosh had a teacher who was a native of Italy.

“She thought it was sad people didn’t go to see monuments in their own country,” Bartosh says.

Bartosh took this teacher’s words to heart: She toured the Statue of Liberty in 1986, climbing to the crown with its view of New York Harbor and Lower Manhattan.

“I was all by myself in the crown,” Bartosh says. “I’d like to go back, but it’s a heck of a walk” because an elevator only takes tourists from the ground floor entrance to the base of the statue. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. National Park Service closed the interior of the statue to the public.

But the Park Service plans to reopen it today for tours of the crown. Bartosh would like to return, even though she is 23 years older than she was during her previous tour and even though tourists must climb the 168 steps inside the statue to the crown. A ladder connects to the torch but is too steep for the public to use.

Brian Snyder of the Statue of Liberty Club, a group of 250 collectors, is “very excited” the statue is reopening.

“I felt the terrorists were the winners in scaring us into keeping her closed,” says Snyder, 46, of Fresno, Calif. “This will be a big statement when she is fully re-opened to pre-9/11 glory.”

Most of the members in Snyder’s club live in the United States, but some are from France, Ireland, South America, Canada and the United Kingdom. He says collectors find the statue appealing either because they are glad to live in “this great country” or because they wish they did.

Frenchman Frederic Auguste Bartholdi designed the statue, the formal name of which is Liberty Englightening the World, as a gift from the French people in recognition of the friendship established during the American Revolution. His countryman, Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, who designed the tower in Paris that bears his name, designed the interior framework of the statue.

The 151-foot-high statue is that of a woman inspired by Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom. Liberty is dressed in a draping Roman robe with a crown of seven huge spikes on her head. Standing on broken shackles to symbolize freedom, she holds a torch aloft in her right hand and a book inscribed with the date of the Declaration of Independence in Roman numerals in her left.

Bartholdi presented the statue to the ambassador from the United States in 1884 in Paris. The statue was shipped the following year in 214 cases to New York and was dedicated by President Grover Cleveland in 1886 in New York.

Bartosh has many other examples of the Statue of Liberty, including a Madame Alexander doll, a dog toy she has kept from her Jack Russell terrier and a book of stamps from all over the world honoring the U.S. Statue of Liberty.

“I think it’s interesting other countries would care enough about the Statue of Liberty enough to use it on their stamps,” she says.

One of the most unique examples is a dried, flattened leaf with the image of Lady Liberty somehow lasered into the leaf veins. Another very unusual example is a bedspread which Italian immigrant Adelina Burascano Lingos, 93, of New York, had crocheted using thin crochet thread. Lingos, now deceased, used a photograph of the Statue of Liberty to make the throw, counting the stitches per square.

She even has a TRACO polo shirt with the Statue of Liberty on it. TRACO, based in Cranberry, manufactured 25 custom replacement windows for the crown during the statue’s multimillion-dollar restoration in the 1980s. And she has a Statue of Liberty cornbread pan with the icon in each cornbread compartment.

“My daughter sent it,” Bartosh says of her grown daughter, Julia, of Auburn, Ala. “She says it’s easy to buy me something for Christmas.”

Bartosh is proud of making her own way in life in the years since her divorce.

“The Statue of Liberty is part of who I am,” she says. “It really intertwines with my life.”

By Sandra Fischione Donovan
THE TRIBUNE-REVIEW

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