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Published in the Seattle Times online on Feb. 17, 2022
and in PacificNW Magazine of the printed Times on Feb. 20, 2022
What can we learn about liberty from a replica at Alki?
By Clay Eals
When I led a tour for a mother and her 3-year-old daughter along Alki Beach a few years back, we stopped at the Statue of Liberty replica. I asked the girl to look up and tell me what she thought the statue was raising aloft in her right hand. Her innocent, timeless response:
“An ice-cream cone!”
The next question was tougher. What was the statue cradling in her left arm?
Of course, the correct answers are a flaming torch and a tablet, the latter inscribed with the Declaration of Independence date of July 4, 1776.
The replica, in two renditions over the years, has prompted countless moments, teachable and otherwise, ever since 200 of the 8-1/2-foot-tall miniatures — modeled on the 151-foot, 1886 original in New York harbor — were erected across the country by the Boy Scouts of America following World War II. The patriotic campaign was dubbed “Strengthening the Arm of Liberty.”
At Alki, after filling a 15-block-long parade, 2,000 scouts dedicated a water-facing replica along the park’s promenade on Feb. 23, 1952. This Wednesday marks its 70th anniversary.
Weather and dispiriting crime took a toll. By climbing her ridged foundation, vandals repeatedly yanked off Lady Liberty’s right arm, flame and seven-point crown. In 1975, she even was knocked off her base.
Further heartache surfaced in 2000 when, as scheduled, a 1952 time capsule of thousands of scout names and other ephemera in the base was opened, but water had destroyed much of its contents.
The replica assumed new poignancy after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. For days, locals congregated at its base, inscribing 1,000 paper bags that held tea-light candles and lined the Alki promenade as luminarias.
Messages ranged from anger (“You can hide, you cowards, but we will find you”) to hope (“We have really only one thing in common: freedom to believe what we want, in peace”). The Southwest Seattle Historical Society preserved and later displayed the bags annually.
A new replica arose on the old base in 2007 and, thanks to a campaign funded by inscribed bricks, was rededicated in 2008 on a sheer, lighthouse-themed base in a redesigned plaza. The battered earlier version was moved to the historical society’s nearby Log House Museum.
In 2009, fueled partly by children’s items, the historical society and Alki Community Council buried near the new replica’s base a better-protected time capsule, to be opened in 2059.
Only 100 of the replicas still stand nationwide. With liberty’s hard truths and stern ideals buffeted by today’s tyrannical forces, those visiting the Alki statue just might rediscover a measure of honest inspiration.
Special thanks to Sea Scouts skippers Steve Grassia, Al Bruce and Robin Kolke for their invaluable help on this installment. Also thanks to Mary Kay Walsh, who loaned the U.S. flag!
Below are 8 historical clippings from The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) and West Seattle Herald that were helpful in the preparation of this column. At the bottom, we also present a brief reflection by Paul Monk, as related via his niece Kirstie Cameron.