When it comes to important symbols of the United States that encapsulate our national aspirations to stand for values such as democracy, freedom, and inclusion, the Statue of Liberty might be at the top of the list. Ever since her inauguration in 1886, she has lifted her torch above New York Harbor, serving as a beacon for countless immigrants. Movingly, Emma Lazarus’s poem “The New Colossus” evokes the sense of welcome that the Statue of Liberty represents and concludes, “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
But as solemn as the Statue of Liberty’s significance may be and as heartfelt the emotions her image can call up, the Statue of Liberty also has a lighter side. As a New York City landmark and a pop culture icon, the Statue of Liberty can offer more playful qualities. When Iris and Mort November donated their collection of more than 1,500 Statue of Liberty items to The Strong in 2004, they dramatically expanded the range of Lady Liberty’s representations in the museum, including some that are just plain fun.
Souvenirs make up one prominent segment of Statue of Liberty items in the November donation. Generations of travelers have considered any trip incomplete without something tangible to bring home that depicts their destination and prompts happy memories of the journey. Of course, the Statue of Liberty features prominently on dozens of souvenirs such as plates, mugs, snow globes, and figurines. But she also lends her features and signature “look” to things like salt and pepper shakers, bobbleheads, and even snazzy sunglasses with spikes like Liberty’s crown. Slip your feet into Statue of Liberty socks. Nosh on Statue of Liberty cookies or chocolates and then slake your thirst with a nice cold beverage in a Statue of Liberty stein.
For the younger set, there are plenty of Statue of Liberty toys to go around. Cuddle up to one of your favorite characters—Bugs Bunny, Tweety Bird, Goofy, Mickey Mouse—as a stuffed animal complete with torch. Naturally, fashionable Barbie has a Statue of Liberty outfit, but so too does Furby. Statue of Liberty banks let you save your coins for the next trip to NYC. And the jigsaw puzzles from the Novembers offer complexities for every ambition level—from super simple to eye-crossingly complex. Your bathtub might be a little smaller than New York Harbor, but wouldn’t it benefit from a Liberduck squeak toy afloat?
So here’s to you, Statue of Liberty, in all your guises—patriotic symbol and playful image in popular culture.
Article by Christopher Bensch, Vice President for Collections at The Strong National Museum of Play.