‘Secrets of America’s Favorite Places’ Review: The Statue of Liberty’s Little-Known History

A solid stock of facts put some misconceptions to rest



June 30, 2016 6:12 p.m. ET

That the Statue of Liberty was not originally intended as a beacon of welcome is just one of the revelations—or myths rejected—in the opening episode of the unfortunately named “Secrets of America’s Favorite Places,” a title that suggests this eight-part series is standard, sensationalist TV fare with little claim to seriousness. Its tone is, admittedly, not that of the sober documentarian. There’s no missing the slight undertone of whoopee that accompanies its revelations—but no missing, either, in the first episode, the solid stock of facts little known today about Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s statue, whose torch he never imagined as having anything to do with immigrants. It took on that role only later, abetted by poet Emma Lazarus’s sonnet written to raise funds for the statue’s pedestal. Titled “The New Colossus,” it contained the soon to be immortal lines forever after associated with the statue: “Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.…”

Fundraising is one of the richer veins of history scrutinized here in detail, not least the role of Joseph Pulitzer, who appealed to readers of his newspaper, the New York World, to express their support for the statue, their idealism as Americans, by contributing to the fund for the pedestal and by writing letters, some of which he printed in the paper. The result was a flow of small donations amounting to a hefty sum and a large increase in circulation.