A patron at the Duluth Public Library recently asked me about the Statue of Liberty replica that sits between Amzoil Arena and the Great Lakes Aquarium. I had researched the statue a few years ago, when construction of the new arena forced it to be moved from its original location. I discovered that the story behind Duluth’s eight-foot Lady Liberty has a connection to the sculptor of the original 151-foot statue raised in 1886, Frederick Auguste Bartholdi.
According to a 1975 article in the Duluth News Tribune, Ray Bartholdi grew up in Duluth before heading to the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, where he remained after graduating in 1925. When he was young, his father told him that the sculptor Frederick Bartholdi was “a cousin of his.” It may have been true; and again, it may have not.
This tactile connection likely set off a lifelong hobby of Ray Barthodi: collecting replicas, images, and other memorabilia of the statue he grew up believing—perhaps correctly—was the work of a relative. In the early 1970s, he found the eight-foot copper replica at a Twin Cities estate sale.
The replica was one of 200 produced in about 1950 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America by the Friedley-Voshardt Company of Chicago. The 200-pound monuments sold for $350—plus shipping. In 1951 the Minnesota communities of Hibbing, Northfield, and South St. Paul each had one of the replicas on display, but there is no record of the statue Bartholdi purchased at the estate sale.
Bartholdi was told the owner had planned to give the statue to a local Boy Scout troupe, but for whatever reason that never happened. When Bartholdi bought it, the monument was still packaged in its original crate. (He did not disclose how much he paid for the statue.)
Bartholdi later contacted Frank Amendola, then president of the Duluth Builder’s Exchange, and told him of his plans to give the statue to the “children of Duluth” during the nation’s bicentennial celebration in 1976. Amendola called on Duluth’s construction community, who donated $20,000 worth of material and labor to build a granite pedestal in the form of an eleven-point star, replicating the original statue’s base in New York Harbor. Amendola also arranged for the monument’s display.
The statue was unveiled December 11, 1976, in “Arena Park” as the area around the Duluth Arena—today’s Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center—was known. The statue received an unspecified restoration in 1986, and was rededicated on July 4 of the same year—100 years after the original statue was first raised over New York Harbor.
Construction of the Amzoil Arena forced the statue’s relocation, and city officials considered moving it to another part of the city, perhaps to Merritt Memorial Park. But a spot was found among the greenspace along the southwest corner of the new arena, where Ray Bartholdi’s gift to the children of Duluth stands today not only as a reminder of our national sense of liberty, but also of one man’s generosity toward the town where he spent his childhood.
Do you have a question for historian Maryanne Norton? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.