All of the Symbols on the Statue of Liberty, Explained

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Like a lot of American monuments in this post-National Treasure world, the Statue of Liberty gets a lot of attention as a possible Freemason “code” full of crazy symbols and hidden meanings. The truth is not that sexy. But it’s still sexy! Statue of Liberty symbols are a real thing, but they’re mostly of the art class variety. The Statue of Liberty torch, for example, is meant to symbolize “Liberty Enlightening the World” (the statue’s actual name, by the way). The Statue of Liberty tablet has a little “goof” in it for typography geeks. See? It’s sexy!

So there might not be any Statue of Liberty codes to speak of, but the history of its construction and the thoughtfulness of its design are pretty fascinating to think about. For example, did you know that Freemasons built the thing? It’s right there on a plaque, man. When will you sheeple wake up? Just kidding! (But seriously: the Freemasons really did build it.) Read on for a Statue of Liberty history lesson and a comprehensive list of all of the symbols “hidden” on Lady Liberty.

Collection Photo:  Pam Roth
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  1. The Torch: A Light That Shows the Path to Liberty

    As the statue’s official name “Liberty Enlightening the World” implies, the torch is a symbol of liberty and enlightenment. Observing that torches could also be used for destruction, one of the original “idea guys” behind the statue, Édouard René de Laboulaye, clarified that Lady Liberty’s torch is “not the torch that sets afire, but the flambeau, the candle-flame that enlightens.” The National Park Service describes it as lighting “the way to freedom, showing us the path to Liberty.”

  2. Crown: A Way to Show She Is Divine

    Some depictions of Libertas, the Roman goddess of liberty that partially inspired the Statue of Liberty, show her sporting what’s called a Phrygian cap, which symbolizes freedom (it also makes you look a lot like a Smurf).

    Sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi chose instead “a spiked diadem or aureole, like that seen in classical images of Helios, the Greek sun god.” The official librarian of the Statue of Liberty National Monument say it’s “a halo or what in art is called a nimbus, showing she is divine."

  3. Robe: A Symbol of Liberty

    The Statue of Liberty wears a stola and pella (gown and cloak), which are common in depictions of Roman goddesses such as Libertas, the goddess of—you guessed it!—liberty. Lady Liberty is actually fairly conservative in her apparel, considering the nude or topless depictions of Libertas in other artwork that predate her. Why the cover-up? Édouard René de Laboulaye, who originally proposed the statue, was a devout Catholic, and insisted that sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi cover her “with a robe from head to toe.”

  4. Spikes: The Seven Continents (But Up for Debate)

    What the spikes (or rays) that emanate from Lady Liberty’s crown symbolize, exactly, is a topic of some debate. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History simply says the “seven rays on her crown represent the seven continents of the Earth.” Frommers says that the rays “represent the seven seas of the world.”

  5. Windows: Gemstones Found on Earth

    The National Park Service says that the 25 windows in the crown “represent gemstones found on the earth.” Cool, eh?

  6. Broken Shackles: Freedom from Oppression

    The broken shackles and axe head at the feet of Lady Liberty represent “the throwing off of tyranny and oppression.” Some say the chains are a substitute for the broken jug that often appears alongside depictions of Libertas, the Roman goddess of liberty, a partial inspiration for the Statue of Liberty. The broken jug was meant as a “symbol of confinement now ended.”

    The National Park Service writes that statue as a whole symbolizes “American independence and the end of all types of servitude and oppression.”

  7. The Tablet: Establishment of Law

    The Tablet: Establishment of L... 
	is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list All of the Symbols on the Statue of Liberty, Explained
    Photo: I_am_Allan/flickr/CC-BY-NC 2.0

    The so-called “tablet of law” (or tabula ansata) in Lady Liberty’s left hand is a fairly obvious symbol, but there are some interesting details to note. It is inscribed, in a low relief, with “JULY IV MDCCLXXVI” (July 4, 1776) to recognize, obviously, the creation of the United States of America.

    Astute, insufferable typography nerds, however, will note that the lettering is “not Roman but sans serif,” which is odd for a depiction of Roman numerals on a Roman goddess-inspired statue.

  8. The Shape of the Tablet: A Symbol for Cohesion

    The Shape of the Tablet: A Sym... 
	is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list All of the Symbols on the Statue of Liberty, Explained
    Photo: Martin Deutsch/flickr/CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    The shape of Lady Liberty’s tablet is an interesting symbolic detail, as the National Park Service points out. It’s called a keystone, which is an architectural stone that “keeps the others together.” The NPS observes that “the keystone of this nation is the fact that it is based on law” and “without law, freedom and democracy would not prevail.”

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