SCHENECTADY — A group says the city’s move of a replica Statue of Liberty is a failure and its relocation to Erie Boulevard and Union Street two years ago is ill-suited.
Lady Liberty is lonely and unnoticed at the heavily traveled location, the group said, and it has redoubled its efforts to have the statue returned to its former placement at Liberty Park, now known as Gateway Plaza.
Janice Evans Thompson, Lance Jackson and others plan to address the matter during “privilege of the floor” at Monday’s City Council meeting, and on Thursday a rally will take place at 4 p.m. near the 71-year-old statue, with a demonstration along the curb an hour earlier, at 3 p.m.
However, Mayor Gary McCarthy, who’s largely responsible for the move, touts the relocation as a success.
The 8-1/2 foot, 290-pound Lady Liberty, which is made of sheet copper, was removed from Liberty Park in 2017 during redesign efforts there. It had stood there since 1950.
The statue was placed in a storage garage on Foster Avenue during the park’s redesign and then resurfaced in August 2019 at Erie Boulevard and Union Street.
The City Council adopted an implementation plan for Gateway Plaza in 2013. The plan states that the Statue of Liberty would be relocated within the plaza toward a public bus stop, for more visibility of the statue from the roadway.
“We feel where she is now is a dishonor to her,” Thompson said. “It’s a polluted, cluttered area. She needs to be in a place of serenity, where flowers bloom in case people want to meditate.”
“And it’s the gateway to Schenectady,” Thompson said of the park plaza, “so it should be there.”
In addition to Thompson and Jackson, Chris Morris, David Giacalone, Roma Barbera and Cecelia Luccitelli are behind the effort to move the statue back to the park, where it was originally installed by Boy Scouts as part of a nationwide program to erect Statue of Liberty replicas in their communities.
Jackson, 81, was one of the Boy Scouts present at Liberty Park when the statue was erected.
“We raised money and put that there,” said Jackson, who was 10 at the time. He recalled several local dignitaries were present for the unveiling when they stood on the balcony of a former YMCA.
“I have brought visitors there and I’ve talked about it to people forever,” said Jackson, a retired educator. “I was teaching about what it means to be an American and so forth.”
Jackson said the projected $20,000 it would cost to move the statue back would be “a drop in the bucket” for a city with approximately $53 million in COVID-19 relief funding.
The advocates also expressed a level of frustration with McCarthy, who they say hasn’t listened to their plea.
When asked about the matter, McCarthy said the statue had been neglected in its original location.
“The primary function that the statue was used for was for people to urinate,” he said. “Nobody complained about that. And public art should create some discussion and activity, so I think this is good.
“Nobody paid any attention to it, nobody knew it was there for a long time. Now we’ve got people out talking about it all the time, so I think, because of the move, it’s been a success.”
McCarthy said a series of statues will eventually dot the boulevard. Already, there are statues of Thomas Edison and Charles Steinmetz, the two most iconic figures in General Electric history, on lower Erie Boulevard in downtown Schenectady since May 2015.
The mayor said plans are in the works to erect statues of Dr. Elizabeth Gillette, the late physician who was the first woman elected to the New York State Assembly from upstate New York. State Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie, helped secure funding for it.
Also, another group of citizens led by Brian Merriam of the George Westinghouse Statuary committee and Frank Wicks, a Rotarian, plans to erect a statue of George Westinghouse Jr., the founder of the Westinghouse Electric Co. that went on to become the largest of the many companies he created.
Schenectady County Historian Bill Buell took a neutral stance on Lady Liberty’s location.
“I understand the passion, but I’m not taking sides on this issue,” said Buell, who’s part of the effort for the Westinghouse statue.
“I appreciate why some members of the community are upset about the statue’s new location at Erie and Union, but the face of downtown Schenectady continues to change and that busy intersection may eventually become more pedestrian-friendly,” Buell said.
“Also, the area around Liberty Park has changed considerably in the last 20 years, and even if you live in the Stockade neighborhood you would still have to cross a very busy, wide street to gain access to the statue. Water Street, on the south side of the triangular park, is now a pedestrian walkway and basically a part of SUNY Schenectady housing. The popular businesses that were along that street, such as the Oxbow Inn, are no longer there.”
If you’re not a student at SUNY Schenectady, or unless you use public transportation regularly, there’s no reason to be in Liberty Park, Buell suggested.
Contact reporter Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.