Most people aren't even aware of Pine Bluff's Lady Liberty, and those who are have almost forgotten.
Of those who remember, most aren't sure where the 8-and-a-half foot Statue of Liberty ended up.
After a couple of moves around town, it now sits on city property across from the mayor's office on the south side of 10th Avenue between State and Texas streets, said Lori Walker, Pine Bluff Economic and Community Development assistant director and unofficial city historian. Actually, she said, it's a replica of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor called The Strengthen the Arm of Liberty Monument.
“It's part of the [Pine Bluff] Memorial Gardens and could use a little restoration,” Walker said.
According to Mark K. Christ, a spokesman for the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, who wrote a piece about the Pine Bluff replica, as well as a similar one in Fayetteville, for The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture, the history of the statue has its roots in the Red Scare (a fear of the Soviet Union infiltrating the country and possibly taking over the world), which contributed to a patriotic outpouring that swept the country, beginning in the 1940s.
In reaction to the Red Scare, the Boy Scouts of America based their 1950s era campaign, “Strengthen the Arm of Liberty,” on the statue and the patriotic stirrings it evokes, he says.The original neoclassical sculpture made of copper stands on Liberty Island in New York Harbor and was a given to the people of America by the French government. It was designed by artist Frederic Auguste Bartholdi and built by Gustave Eiffel, and was dedicated on Oct. 28, 1886.
Christ said the Liberty program was part of the Boy Scouts' 40th anniversary celebration and was designed to “impress upon the general public the citizenship training values of the Boy Scouts and to reawaken Americans to their heritage of freedom.”
The “Strengthen the Arm of Liberty” kicked off in February 1949 with the Friedley-Voshardt Company of Chicago, Illinois, offering copper sheet, 290 pound replicas for about $350.
The money needed for the purchase of a replica was often a collaborative effort between local adult organizations and Boy Scout troops.
“Ultimately, around 200 of the statues were erected, the vast majority in the Midwest … .The first statue erected in the South as part of the Strengthen the Arm of Liberty movement was placed in Pine Bluff as the result of a joint effort of local Boy Scouts and the Pine Bluff Kiwanis and Lions clubs,” Christ said.
The Oct. 7, 1950, dedication was a huge affair, with then-Sen. John McClellan as speaker and an estimated 1,000 people watching as four marching bands and approximately 200 Boy Scouts marched by. The monument stood in front of the Pine Bluff Library on Fifth Avenue from 1950 until the mid-1960s, when the library and the Pine Bluff city offices moved to the new, Edward Durrell Stone-designed Pine Bluff Civic Center.
At that point, the statue was moved to the center of a grassy median adjacent to the Civic Center, and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places November 1, 2000. Christ said there is a second Liberty replica in Fayetteville on the grounds of the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks at 1100 N. College Ave.
“The bases are different but the sculptures are the same,” Christ says.
There is an even older replica at the Greene County Courthouse in Paragould. The 7-foot bronze piece was dedicated in 1924.