News of Norway, issue 4, 1999
For almost a century, few knew that Frederic Bartholdi used copper from the Vigsnes Mine located on a small island on the southwest coast of Norway to construct the 151- foot-1-inch lady. Even though financial problems plagued the Statue of Liberty project on both sides of the Atlantic (the Americans built the pedestal and the French constructed the statue), Bartholdi did not pinch his purse when it came to the copper. Only the best was good enough for the Statue of Liberty. At the time, the price of Vigsnes copper was 5 percent higher than other copper on the world market. The story of the copper would have remained a rumor and an unsolved mystery, if it hadn't been for a Norwegian immigrant from Vigsnes, Bård Lande, and his daughter Kay Lande Selmer.
Bård Lande's grandfather had been among the farmers who had sold land to the mining company, and as a boy, he used to play in the mines. He grew up with the story of the liberty lady copper. When Bård Lande landed on Ellis Island in 1923, he had the story with him and would later pass it on to his two daughters. A trip to Norway in 1985, when Kay Lande Selmer was invited to do a 17th of May speech at her father's birthplace, prompted the story about the copper back to the surface.
Bård Lande wanted his daughter to document the story in a book to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty in 1986. Before a book could be written the story had to be proven. So Kay Lande Selmer and her father set out to find the evidence.
A native of Staten Island, Kay Lande Selmer is a noted piano and voice teacher, composer and performing artist. Her background includes studies at the Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester and the Julliard School of Music in New York City. She has performed on more than 600 network television shows, including regular appearances on the Arthur Godfrey Show, Captain Kangaroo and Birthday House (for which she composed original material).
Kay Lande Selmer has no official history research background, but she shared her father's passion for Norway. She speaks and writes Norwegian because her father made her study it as a child.
Kay Lande Selmer went to the Ellis Island foundation, which was interested in finding out if the story was true, but needed documentation. She was on her own. Selmer said that at this point she didn't know where to go.
A New York Times article set her on the right track. The article said that the AT&T Bell lab in New Jersey was doing a study of the effects of long term pollution on the copper in New York Harbor. The scientists were amazed by the quality of the copper in the Statue of Liberty and wondered where it came from. That is when Bård Lande told his daughter: "'You see. They don't know. You must tell them.'"
Kay Lande Selmer called the lab and told her story. But the Vigsnes copper she had in her possession was too pure. The Bell lab scientists needed something mixed with another mineral. The search for another sample began.
At last, an old man whose father had worked in the Vigsnes mine came forward with a pair of copper tweezers, Kay Lande Selmer said.
The tweezers were sent over the Atlantic and a sample was compared to a sample from the Statue of Liberty. The copper was a very close match, so the researchers turned to historical data in search of other possible mines where Bartholdi could have gotten the copper.
Through a method of elimination, the Vigsnes copper mine was the only feasible possibility. The copper from the mines in England was of too poor quality. Copper from Germany would never have been purchased by Bartholdi because of animosity from the Franco-Prussian War. Samples from the copper mines in Argentina turned out not to match that of the Statue of Liberty.
Kay Lande Selmer and her father were looking for a bill of sales, but so far this document has been impossible to retrieve.
The Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island have been very receptive to the new piece to the Statue of Liberty story.
Bård Selmer did not live to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty in 1986. At the age of 83, he suddenly became ill and passed away in March, a month before the celebration where Kay Lande Selmer was a guest of honor.
But Bård Lande's 83rd birthday was certainly a memorable one for him. On that day in 1985, the documentation that finally determined the origin of the Statue of Liberty copper came through.
Though the origin of the copper has been determined, the beginning of the story still needs to be written into the exhibit in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. So far, the only reminder is a plaque outside on a quarter of a ton copper rock that was transported from Karmøy to Liberty Island in 1986 telling the tale of where the copper came from.
On May 10 of this year, Kay Lande Selmer presented the Statue of Liberty foundation with a copy of the painting "From Vigsnæs, Karmøy" (1883) by Fredrik Kolstø.
The painting shows the mining area on a busy day in 1883, almost 20 years after the first copper was discovered. The original can be found in the National Gallery in Oslo, Norway. The painting was given to Liberty Island by a foundation in Vigsnes, Stiftelsen Vigsnes Grubeområde.
In addition to presenting the painting, Kay Lande Selmer also sung the song she has composed especially for the freedom lady, "Our Statue of Liberty."
Kay Lande Selmer is not one to rest, and she is not done with her work for Liberty Island. Currently, she is busy writing the book about the copper lady that her father prompted her to write years ago.