This is part of our series, NYCurious, where we answer your questions about the city. Tweet or Facebook Message your queries to us at @amNewYork, with #NYCurious.
The Statue of Liberty, in all its green gleaming glory, is a symbol of freedom held near and dear to the hearts of Americans and immigrants across the country.
But did you know she hasn’t taken a bath in over 130 years?
While the Statue of Liberty is maintained regularly and has even undergone some major restoration projects, its iconic green coloring is actually a direct result of not being washed.
So what does the National Park Service, which is tasked with keeping lady liberty secure, do to make sure she is in working order? Scroll down to learn more.
Why isn’t the Statue of Liberty washed?
The outside of the statue is made of copper and was the color of an old penny when it first opened to the public in 1886, according to National Park Service spokesman Jerry Willis.
“Exposed to the elements, copper oxidizes and turns the familiar green patina over time,” Willis explained. “It is a protective layer that shields the statue from the extreme elements of New York Harbor, like high winds, salt water and air pollution.”
Cleaning the green patina off the Statue of Liberty could do more harm than good, Willis added.
How many people work to maintain the Statue of Liberty?
A team of 24 people from the National Park Service maintains the Statue of Liberty. The NPS also relies on several contractors who perform maintenance work on the monument.
What does routine maintenance of the statue consist of?
“We serve about 4.5 million visitors a year, and that requires us to have a robust maintenance program to keep up with all the wear and tear on things like doors, elevators and painted surfaces,” Willis said.
The maintenance team is also responsible for daily tasks such as grounds keeping and clearing drainage grates, as well as keeping the plumbing, electrical and HVAC systems up to date.
Why do the lights on the Statue of Liberty go dark sometimes?
The most common reason the lights on the Statue of Liberty are turned off is because of routine maintenance being performed on the island’s electrical system.
“The most extreme example of the lights going out was after [superstorm] Sandy, when the lighting system was destroyed by the storm surge,” Willis added. “Fortunately, the lighting system has been replaced with a more resilient LED system which is brighter and far more energy efficient.”
The National Park Service also put out a statement in March 2017 debunking rumors that the Statue of Liberty intentionally went dark on International Women’s Day as a not-so-veiled comment on the political climate of the time.
“Power and a lighting system controller had been switched off in order to change out faulty lighting equipment,” Willis had said in an emailed statement on March 8, 2017. “Upon completion of that project, power was restored, but the outage was a result of a failure to properly reset the lighting system controller.”
When was the last time major restoration work was completed on the Statue of Liberty?
“In 1982, President Ronald Reagan appointed Lee Iacocca, chairman of Chrysler Corporation, to head up a private-sector effort to restore the Statue of Liberty,” after decades of wear and tear, Willis said.
Funding the $87 million project was undertaken by a partnership between the National Park Service and The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation Inc., which is still considered to be the most successful public-private partnership in American history, according to Willis.
The most noticeable change during the renovation was the replacement of the Statue of Liberty’s torch. The supporting structure of the Statue of Liberty’s arm had deteriorated over the years due to rain that fell in through the torch’s amber-colored windows. The new torch is still made of copper, but it’s covered in 24-karet gold leaf.
“The restoration was completed in time for the statue’s centennial in 1986,” Willis added.
Are there any plans for another major restoration in the near future?
While the original torch has been on display inside the monument’s pedestal, the NPS plans to move it to a glass enclosure as part of the new Statue of Liberty Museum, according to Willis. The park service is also in the planning stages of a project to restore the gold leaf of the current torch.
“The harsh elements and lightning take their toll on the torch’s finish,” Willis added. “It’s estimated that the statue is struck by lightning upwards of 600 times a year.”