Thursday, October 11, 2012

Liberty in Butler: an update

Regular readers know that I volunteer for the National Park Service and a non-profit organization called Save Ellis Island. Besides getting me into some pretty cool behind-the-scenes situations, I get to learn more about the Immigration Museum and the Statue of Liberty than most people would ever think to ask about. Many of the rangers are more than happy to share details they unearth in their own research.

Sometimes that leads to weird coincidences, like when a ranger discovery crosses a Hidden New Jersey jaunt. It happened just the other day, when one of them pointed out that a bust in the building's library portrays New Jersey rubber magnate Richard Butler.

The mystery of the Butler
Statue of Liberty has been solved...
sort of.
What does a manufacturer have to do with a national park? Good question, and I thought I knew the story. You might recall that a few months ago, Ivan and I learned about Butler after discovering a replica Statue of Liberty in the Morris County town that bears his name. The borough also has a street named for the Statue's sculptor and Butler's close friend Auguste Bartholdi. Since my research didn't come up with much more of a connection, I'd figured that the replica Statue was yet another tribute.

Well, apparently I should have looked at it from the opposite direction. Butler wasn't just a friend, he was the Lee Iacocca of his time, playing a major role in raising funds for construction of the Statue's pedestal. As secretary of the American Committee for the Statue of Liberty, he also donated the services of his rubber factory to ship miniature Statues to contributors. In recognition of his service, the French government named him a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.

I wish I could say that the fundraising statuettes were manufactured in Butler, but that honor went to the Newton Bottle Stopper Company of New York. Marked with the name of the committee that sold them, the six- and twelve-inch tall keepsakes are no doubt valuable collectors items today.

The provenance of the Butler police station Liberty is still a mystery for us. Did Richard Butler purchase it for the borough, or is it a newer addition to the community? Various larger-sized replicas were cast in France, but lists of their possible locations don't include New Jersey. We'll track it down someday.

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