Friday 18 November 2011

Born free

As an immigrant, my place of birth has taken great signification. Despite living in France now for more than a third of my life, I am still defined by my country of origin. Is it something that ever really leaves you?

One person who might be able to tell me is an old lady who
was born in Paris but now lives in New York. Her place of birth was so important that there is still a plaque today on the very spot that she came into the world. Her name? The statue of liberty.

Like many other immigrants, she has become more closely connected with her country of adoption than her country of origin, even going as far as becoming a symbol of her new land. In truth, it was easy for her. She was welcomed as a star on her arrival, and went to a place which has always been defined by immigration, and where almost all its inhabitants can trace their origins back to other lands.

Artist Paul Joseph Victor Dargaud captures the birth of the statue of liberty, before she grew too large for Paris.

In France, the relationship with immigrants has always been more difficult, and there is no symbol holding out a shining light to welcome new arrivals (ironic therefore that she should be born in this land). I know that I am in a privilieged position to be an immigrant by choice and not financial or political necessity, and to come from a place that is seen positively (albeit with some suspicion!) in the country, but to my French friends, colleagues and family I will always be the Englishman.

However, there is no plaque at my birthplace. In fact my exact place of birth no longer exists - the hospital in which I was born was demolished several years ago - but I still have a paper, a language, an accent, physical traces and roots that refuse to snap.

A mystery - solved!
The statue of liberty was born on the Rue de Chazelles near the Parc Monceau in the 17th arrondissement. Like my hospital, the atelier (the foundry of Gayet where the casts were made)
has been replaced by something else in what is now a very residential environment.

The question I had asked was who was Milt Forrest and what was his role in this initiative? Thanks to Philippa from the Parisian fields blog, I now have the answer. This Milt Forrest was a Hollywood businessman with a passion for stamp collecting. He just happened to be in Paris at around the 75th anniversary of the statue, and bought a special edition stamp - by chance from a shop opposite the studio in which the statue was built. After discovering that there was no permanent marker for this spot, he vowed to pay for one to be put up, something that was done a few months later. 

Is this the same Milt Forrest? ('Milt Forrest, Hollywood advertising man and originator of the air mail postcard') I hope so because it's a great photo!


Yuriy said...

Adam, what is the exact street address in the 17e?

Kiki said...

no help from me, i'm afraid but i sure thank you for this post. i never knew the story behind this strange 'travelling to and from' of the Liberty statue - now at least i'm a bit more aquainted.
thank you adam, as always, for your interesting post
hopefully, somebody can shed more light; if not, it will remain one of the many unresolved questions in our lives! :)

Adam said...

Yuriy: The sign can be seen on the number 25 rue de Chazelles.

Philippa said...

According to an article in the U.S. newspaper, The Stars and Stripes, dated May 26, 1960, “A plaque commemorating the 75th anniversary of the departure for the U.S. of the Statues of Liberty was unveiled this week in Paris in the studio where the gift from France was sculptured. Milt Forrest, a Hollywood businessman, presented the plaque. His hobby is stamp collecting. A few years ago, here as a tourist, he was browsing through a stamp shop, and in talking with the shopkeeper a new Statue of Liberty commemorative stamp was mentioned. The stamp dealer added that across the street from his shop was the studio where Frederick August Bartholdi had completed the statue in 1895. Forrest was struck by the fact nothing marked the spot. He vowed to return with an appropriate marker. This week he was back in Paris to offer a plaque in presence of city officials and U.S. Embassy representatives.”

Philippa said...

Correction: The date was 1885, not 1895. I mistyped it.

Adam said...

Thanks Philippa - I don't know how you find these things!

PeterParis said...

I did a post about this, on my previous blog, now some four years ago, with a photo of what it looks like today. Unfortunately I never noticed the plaque.

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