A quarter century ago (it hardly seems that long!), the state of Texas replaced the Goddess of Liberty statue on top of the capitol building in Austin. The old Goddess had been in place since 1888, and after a century of exposure she was showing her age. The old Goddess was finally removed and an identical Goddess was cast to replace her. Over two weekends, and with difficulty, the new Goddess was hoisted to the top of the capitol dome where today, 25 years later, you can see her gleaming white figure from almost any point north or south of Town Lake (aka Colorado River) in Austin.
I was in the crowd that first weekend, when Texas National Guard helicopters attempted, repeatedly and unsuccessfully, to thread the new Goddess onto the supporting pole on top of the dome. I made notes for my private journal and I took snapshots. Of course, in those days my film camera was small and cheap, so the photos are not real good. Nonetheless, it is a record of what I saw.
Here are my notes of that day.
May 31, 1986 Saturday
The helicopter, with the statue hanging underneath, approached the dome from the north side. As it got closer, red smoke was released from the dome to help guide the pilot. The helicopter hovered over the dome, then came down slowly, hoping to thread the statue onto a pole. Three ropes were dangling from the feet of the statue. Workers on the dome were supposed to grab the guide ropes to stabilize the statue. From what I could see, the workers got hold of the ropes but had to let them go. Even with the ropes in hand, the workers could not guide the Goddess onto the pole. The helicopter tried for a few minutes to get the statue on, but when it did not happen, the pilot flew south and circled back around. The statue, swinging out as the helicopter made the turn, looked like a daredevil, one of those stuntmen, like Eval Knieval, try something for publicity.
Once the helicopter swung back to the north side, it slowly approached the dome again. Red smoke went up again. Again, the workers appeared to have the ropes, but let go, and again the statue missed the pole.
When the helicopter had first appeared, and later as it looked like workmen were guiding the statue onto the pole, the crowd in front of the capitol broke into applause. A band, toward the southeast corner of the capitol fence, played marches. After a few misses, the whole scene seemed comical. With each try, the band played and people applauded, and the workers on the dome and in the helicopter kept trying to get it right. It was like a scene from a movie where the announcer, with an orchestral flourish in the background, keeps announcing the star of the show and each time no one shows up.
Repeatedly, the helicopter lifted up, came down, shifted this way and that, but could not get the statue, which was swinging in all directions, onto the pole. Once final time, the helicopter backed off a ways from the dome, but without circling as far around as the time before. When it came in, there was no red smoke. More trying, none of it successful.
Finally, the helicopter gave up, headed south and did not return.
I was not there the following weekend when the statue was finally put into place. The thing succeeded only when we got outside help– we had to call in the National Guard from Mississippi. Those Mississippi boys brought in a helicopter better suited to the job. Of course, our Texas pride was wounded.