In the new HBO series The Gilded Age, one of the real-life events that took place in New York City and is recreated in the show is the display of the Statue of Liberty‘s torch and hand in Madison Square Park. The Gilded Age show is set in 1882, the last of the six years the torch was on view in New York City as a fundraising effort for the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. The torch becomes a plot point in tonight’s episode of The Gilded Age.

The central character, Marian Brooke, has come to New York City following the death of her father. She finds out from her father’s lawyer Tom Raikes that he has left her penniless and accepts an offer from her wealthy aunts, one of whom married into the Van Rhijn family, to live with them in New York City. Raikes seemingly follows her to New York, where he aims to break into New York society in the hopes that he may be able to court Marian.

Since they are of two different social classes, Raikes is unable to call on Marian right away up on Fifth Avenue. So he suggests that they bump into each other randomly in public places — Central Park and now Madison Square Park. He suggests they meet “by Liberty’s hand.” Marian hasn’t heard of it, so Raikes explains: “Liberty’s hand from the proposed Statue of Liberty. It was sent over here six years ago to raise funds, but soon it’s going back to France.” “That sounds like something I would like to see,” Marian responds.

The hand and torch of the Statue of Liberty on display in Madison Square Park
The hand and torch of the Statue of Liberty on display in Madison Square Park. Photo from New York Public Library.
dene benton and louisa jacobson walking into madison square park in the gilded age
Marian Brook looking at the Statue of Liberty’s hand in The Gilded Age. Photo: Alison Cohen Rosa/HBO

When Marian arrives at the park, she’s amazed by the size of the sculpture: “If that’s her hand, what size will the Statue of Liberty be?” Her friend Peggy Ryan, who accompanies her, responds “Big!” We then get a little more of a history lesson from Raikes, who seems to know everything (or at least reads up on it) and explains why the effort is short funds for the pedestal.

Before Madison Square Park, the torch was in Philadelphia for the World’s Fair (also known as the Centennial Exposition) in Fairmount Park from May 10 to November 10, 1876. For a $0.50 entry fee, fairgoers could climb to the balcony and the proceeds went to the funding of the statue. Bartholdi himself also came for the event.

For the six years the torch called Madison Square Park home it was perched near Fifth Avenue roughly where the Eternal Light monument is today. When it arrived in 1876 the New York Times reported an appalled sense of disdain for the whole affair stating “had the French sculptor honestly intended to finish the stature of ‘Liberty,’ he would have begun with the foundation, modeling first the boot, then the stocking then the full leg in the stocking.” But in 1882 when Boston said they would take the statue if New York didn’t want it, the Times changed its tune, proclaiming, “the statue is dear to us,” and that New Yorkers would rather it “be smashed into minute fragments before it shall be stuck up in Boston Harbor.” Spoiler alert: New York wins the day.

The filming location for this scene in The Gilded Age is not inside the real Madison Square Park, but in a park in Troy, New York. HBO was unable to provide stills that show the Statue of Liberty torch from the series, but you can see it on tonight’s episode! To learn more about the torch’s arrival in New York City, join an upcoming Untapped New York Insiders Tour of the Secrets of Madison Square Park. You can also get a chance to step inside a real Gilded Age Fifth Avenue mansion in our Fifth Ave Gilded Age Mansions Tour!

Vanderbilt Mansion nyc

Fifth Ave Gilded Age Mansions Tour

Next, read about the top 10 secrets of the Statue of Liberty!