The Way It Was
By Marti Attoun
Little Sisters of Liberty
To help promote the BSA’s 40th anniversary theme of “Strengthen the Arm of Liberty,” 200 small versions of the Statue of Liberty were placed in communities across the country in the early 1950’s. A recent campaign has helped restore many of these long-neglected statues.
On May 27, 1950, nearly 1,000 Boy Scouts marched through downtown Cheyenne, Wyo., on their way to the state capitol grounds to dedicate an eight-foot-tall replica of the Statue of Liberty.
“This should be a proud day for Wyoming,” Gov. Arthur Crane told the crowd attending the ceremony. “First, there are patriotic citizens who voluntarily give of their time to guide and direct the Scouts of Cheyenne and vicinity. Secondly, there are youthful citizens faithfully following the Scout Oath. Thirdly, they have chosen the objective for the year, ‘Strengthen the Arm of Liberty.’”
Between 1949 and 1952, in town after town across America, similar celebrations took place as Scouts dedicated more than 200 of the copper “Little Sisters of Liberty.”
The statues were located on capitol grounds, courthouse lawns, and main streets; in city parks, schoolyards, and libraries; and at Scout camps — all as part of Scouting’s 40th anniversary theme, “Strengthen the Arm of Liberty.”
Jack P. Whitaker, a Kansas City businessman and commissioner for the local Boy Scout council, originated the project after seeing a dedication of a Statue of Liberty replica made of chicken wire and concrete in Spirit Lake, Iowa.
Whitaker paid $3,500 to have an original mold made for the smaller Statues of Liberty. Then the Friedley-Voshardt Company in Chicago made the stamped-copper replicas. Each statue included more than 40 sheets of copper, about the thickness of a nickel, with a wooden frame on the inside.
The statues were then sold for a reported $300 to $350 each to Scout troops, who presented them to cities and towns in 39 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Canal Zone, and the Philippines.
Local communities provided pedestals, which were often quite elaborate and added several feet to the overall height of the statue. Landscaping, too, sometimes graced the statues.
No official count or record was kept on the project and, as the decades wore on, many of the little Statues of Liberty suffered the effects of time.
Weather and vandalism took a toll. Spikes were broken from the crown and the torch-carrying arm often was damaged. While some cities faithfully restored the statues, others simply junked them.
That all changed, starting in 1998, thanks to Troop 101 of Cheyenne, Wyo., chartered to the Cheyenne Lions Club. The troop launched a national treasure hunt to locate the remaining statues and restore interest in the original project.
The troop set up a Web site (troop101.thescouts.com/liberty/) and invited visitors to send in photos and information about the statues in their hometowns.
Kevin Rice, the site’s volunteer coordinator, said the troop took on the project after digging into its own history and discovering newspaper clippings from 1950 about Cheyenne’s statue. The boys wondered how many other cities had statues, and adult leader Pat Madigan suggested trying to get a photo of as many statues as possible.
To date, the site includes nearly 100 photos of Little Sisters of Liberty, many photographed by Scouts and others from across the United States and e-mailed to Troop 101.
The site also includes a 1951 list of more than 200 communities that originally received statues, to which a note has been added regarding each statue’s current location, if known.
Involvement with the Web site was just the beginning of Leland Duck’s interest. He decided to make the statue restoration program in Cheyenne his Eagle service project.
“After 9-11, I felt that it was time to revive the Boy Scout’s campaign of 1950,” said Leland.
The task of restoring the statues wouldn’t be easy, if Cheyenne’s Little Sister of Liberty was any example. It had deteriorated over the years, lost all the spikes from its crown, and at some point had been painted gold, Leland reported.
Because the statue was located on state government grounds, Leland talked to officials about the importance of restoring the statue and sought estimates for the work, which came to about $15,000.
During a city fall festival, Leland manned an information booth about the statue and sold his own crafted stained-glass ornaments to earn money to apply for the restoration.
“This is one of the biggest Eagle Scout service projects we’ve had,” said Kevin Rice. “Leland talked to the mayor, the governor, and the secretary of state, because our statue was on state property and we couldn’t just go in and fix it. It has to be conserved according to certain standards. This is quite a leadership project.”
More than 50 years have passed since the BSA’s “Strengthen the Arm of Liberty” campaign, but in Cheyenne and elsewhere, the statues that once symbolized that theme across the country are again helping a nation to remember its ideals and freedoms.
Freelance writer Marti Attoun lives in Joplin, Mo.
Copyright © 2007 by the Boy Scouts of America. All rights thereunder reserved; anything appearing in Scouting magazine or on its Web site may not be reprinted either wholly or in part without written permission. Because of freedom given authors, opinions may not reflect official concurrence.