Standing on the dome of the beautiful Texas Capitol Building in Austin is a statue known as the Goddess of Liberty. Installed in 1888, she carries a sword in her right hand and her upright left hand holds a star. The figure which stands 15 feet 7 1/2 inches tall and weighs one and one half tons was designed by the architect of the Capitol, Elijah E. Myers. Texans were proud to boast that the statue made the Texas Capitol Building several feet taller than the United States Capitol Building in Washington, DC.
(Image credit: Bullock Texas State History Museum)
Several men claimed to know the name of the model for the statue, but if there actually ever was such a person, her identity is lost to history. When viewed close up, her features have been described as somewhat bizarre. However, her features needed to be exaggerated so that they might at least be seen when viewed from the ground. Architect Elijah E. Myers was a native of Pennsylvania. He submitted a design for the current Capitol building under a pseudonym, rather than his own name. His design was selected and he was paid $12,000 for it. However, Myers was said to be eccentric and hard to work with, so his employment was terminated and a Chicago builder by the name of Gustav Wilke completed the construction. The Texas Capitol Building is considered to be Myers’ architectural masterpiece. He went on to have a successful career but is reported to have developed dementia and died “intestate and obscure at age 78” in 1909. Builder Gustav Wilke became one of the first builders of skyscrapers and died in 1919.
The 1888 Goddess of Liberty statue stood atop the Capitol for almost 100 years until it was taken down for repair and restoration in 1986. The original statue was constructed out of eighty pieces of galvanized iron and zinc, welded together in place atop the Capitol. She was completed in February, 1888.
Beginning its article with “There is a Goddess of Liberty in Texas that has more sweetness to the square inch than any woman in the world,” the Palestine Daily Herald of October 18, 1910 reported that the sculpture was suffering from a bee infestation. The Goddess was observed through a telescope by Arthur Stiles, then the state levee and drainage commissioner, as having thousands of bees coming in and out through her hand along with several wasps who were disturbing the hive as they tried to steal the honey. The hive was eventually removed.
Another report stated that after a storm, the Goddess was left hanging by one rusty bolt. The reports of the on-the-spot repair differ. Some reports state that a group of volunteers led by University of Texas students did the repair. Another gave credit to a bipartisan group of Republicans and Democrats who scaled the dome and repaired her. Somehow, the former explanation seems more likely.
In the 98 years that followed her installation, she had suffered the effects of weather, pollution, lightening strikes, wind and temperature changes. The original plan was to repair the statue where it stood, but upon further inspection it was found to be too fragile and badly deteriorated to repair even if it were to be removed, repaired and reinstalled.
When the original statue was removed in 1986, a possible resting place inside the Capitol was first considered, but her final destination became the Bullock Texas State History Museum. A new scuplture was constructed, cast from molds made from the old Goddess. This time the material used was aluminum in hopes that she would stand for another 100 years. After being in place for nearly thirty years, a touch up was funded earlier this year.
The original statue may now be viewed in a climate controlled room on the southwest corner of the second floor of the Bullock Museum, where it has been displayed since 2001.
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