Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
France's new ambassador did pretty well for Franco-American relations by managing to be born in the United States. But now, at no extra charge, it also turns out that he is a "relative" of the Statue of Liberty.
Ambassador Francois Rene Antoine Lefebvre de Laboulaye and the 18-inch-high model of Liberty made a rather unassuming debut Thursday.
Laboulaye and his wife presided at a black-tie dinner for 30 guests in their Kalorama residence, while Liberty stood watch in the foyer. It was, said the ambassador in whose family she has reposed for more than a century, her first trip to the United States.
And she is, said the ambassador, forerunner to the 151-foot-tall copper statue by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi that has stood sentinel in New York harbor since 1886.
Laboulaye's great-grandfather, a historian and critic of the second empire, wanted to do something to commemorate America's centennial.
"He felt," said his great-grandson, "that the torch of liberty had fallen out of the hands of France and by then rested in the hands of the United States. So one night in his house in Versailles, he got together a group of the leading liberals of France to talk about a way to illustrate the torch America was carrying."
Bartholdi, the sculptor, was among the group. Inspired and even moved to the point that he eventually used his own mother as a model for the gracefully poised, proud woman with a torch. Bartholdi did the first model as a pilot. Her left hand holds the remains of a chain, the rest of which is visible under her left foot. In the final version now towering over Liberty Island, her left hand holds a table upon which the date of the Declaration of Independence is inscribed.
"We could kneel in front of it," teased Mrs. Polk Guest, a pal of Laboulaye's from childhood when he was the son of France's minister to Washington during World War I. ("She used to push my carriage," teased the 60-year-old ambassador; "He must be confused," she laughed.)
Another there from Laboulaye's childhood was Christopher H. Phillips, president of the National Council U.S.-China Trade.
"We all spent a Christmas at Hyde Park with the Roosevelts one year," Phillips remembered, "and he and John Roosevelt locked me in a closet. They didn't want me to play with their guns, and when Mrs. Roosevelt heard all the crying, she turned Francois over her knee and spanked him."