Celebrating the Immigrant: An Administrative History
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The American Museum of Immigration originated out of the attempt by Robert Moses, head of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, to destroy Castle Clinton. When Moses announced his intention to demolish the historic fort to make way for a Brooklyn-Battery Bridge, he ran into determined opposition. The American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, incorporated in 1895 and numbering among its members a goodly sprinkling of New York's old, upper-class elite, spearheaded the drive to save Castle Clinton. In the end, the intervention of two presidents was required to preserve the fort: FDR stopped the bridge and Eisenhower declared the fort a national monument. [1]

In 1951, William H. Baldwin, one of the trustees of the Preservation Society, proposed an imaginative new use for the site. He suggested housing a museum in the fort, which would depict the story of the millions of immigrants who had flocked to the United States in search of liberty and opportunity. The location seemed highly appropriate since Castle Garden, as it was then named, served as a processing station through which some seven million persons had entered the country from 1855 to 1890.

Baldwin, along with other members of the Preservation Society, was also concerned about the cold war with Communism that loomed large in the political rhetoric of the 1950s. An immigration museum stressing the theme of unity out of diversity "could renew our faith and strengthen America's role in the worldwide struggle for men's minds and aspirations." [2]

Baldwin won the backing of other trustees and officers of the Preservation Society, including its president, Alexander Hamilton, the great-great grandson of America's first secretary of the treasury. This group approached the National Park Service with their idea. A series of meetings followed to discuss the proposal, at which NPS was represented by Dr. Francis S. Ronalds, superintendent of Morristown National Historic Park; Newell Foster, superintendent of the Statue of Liberty; and Regional Director Ronald F. Lee.

These NPS staff members argued against development of an immigration museum at Castle Clinton on the grounds that such an installation would interfere with restoration of the site as an historic fort; in addition, they pointed out that the shape and size of the building made it unsuitable for exhibits of any magnitude. The group suggested locating such a museum at the Statue of Liberty.

Ronalds, Foster, and Lee claimed that the base of the statue had never been properly completed. According to the original plans of architect Richard M. Hunt, the monumental figure of Liberty was to rest on a stepped terrace, bounded by the walls of star-shaped Fort Wood. (Actually, Hunt prepared several designs for the pedestal, and the American Committee for the Statue of Liberty, in the 1880s, chose another Hunt plan, calling for a smaller base that did not fill the entire fort area.) Ronalds, Foster, and Lee believed lack of money had forced the Committee to settle for the less attractive design, and the NPS had never been able to remedy the situation due to its limited funds. Consequently, the intervening space between the fort walls and the statue's pedestal had been and remained filled with a mound of earth on which some grass was planted.

The NPS officials reasoned that placing an immigration museum in the base of the statue would serve a double purpose. The area under the existing pedestal and under the excavated earth mound, bounded by the fort walls, would provide an ample and fitting home for the museum with at least two floors for exhibits. "The foot of our great symbol of the American Ideal was the most appropriate place," noted their report, "for presenting the fruits of that ideal." At the same time, building the museum in that space would make it possible to complete the superior, stepped-terrace design from among Hunt's original plans.

Finally, in a meeting at Castle Clinton in April 1952, Lee, Ronalds, Foster, and NPS historians James Holland and Ned Burns, along with Baldwin, Walter Binger, Gardner Osborn and others from the Preservation Society, decided unanimously that "Castle Clinton was not physically adapted to the plan but that the Statue of Liberty offered a much more exciting locale for such an Immigration Museum. . . . " [3]

For a time, the Preservation Society continued as the chief sponsor of the museum project, entering into a contract with Baldwin and Mermey (William Baldwin's public relations firm) to publicize the undertaking so that financial backers could be attracted. To broaden the appeal, Baldwin and other officers of the Preservation Society formed a National Committee for the American Museum of Immigration in March 1953.

A delegation of the committee, headed by industrialist Pierre S. du Pont, 3rd, called upon President Eisenhower at the White House on the morning of August 10, 1954. [4] After outlining their plan to him and explaining that they had the warm encouragement of Secretary of the Interior Douglas McKay, they received the President's hearty endorsement:

This is a nation of nations. Our forefathers came here from all the countries of the world. . . .United as one people we have created new freedom, and new opportunity for all. There is no story like it in history, and the idea of telling it at the foot of the Statue of Liberty is a splendid one. [5]

Additional backing for the project came from Senator John O. Pastore of Rhode Island and Representative Brook Hays who introduced a Joint Resolution in Congress to change the name of the Statue's home from Bedloe's to Liberty Island. This should be accomplished, the resolution proclaimed, because the meaning of the monument was "to be made more brilliant by the establishment, at its foot, of the American Museum of Immigration as the gift of individual Americans to the American people for all future generations." Congress finally passed and Eisenhower signed the measure in the summer of 1956. [6]

Encouraged by the support they received in Washington and favorable publicity in the press, the national committee of the AMI, chaired by retired Major General Ulysses S. Grant, III (grandson of the eighteenth President of the United States), decided to incorporate as a non-profit, educational organization. The American Museum of Immigration, Inc., was chartered by the State of New York on January 28, 1955, for the purpose of constructing and developing a museum at the base of the Statue of Liberty in cooperation with the National Park Service. Further, the corporation was entitled to solicit and hold funds from the public for their project. [7] The new group took over from the Preservation Society all monies and obligations of the museum undertaking, and negotiated a revised contract with Baldwin and Mermey, appointing the firm public relations counsel for the AMI at a retainer of $3,000 per month, plus expenses. [8]

Meanwhile, Congress laid the legal groundwork for cooperation with this and other private groups by passing, in August 1955, the New York City National Shrines Advisory Board Act (69 Stat. 632). This legislation instructed the secretary of the interior to appoint a board of citizens "to render advice" on the rehabilitation and the preservation of historic properties in the New York area (Federal Hall, Castle Clinton, and the Statue of Liberty) and authorized him "to accept donations of funds" for the purpose. [9]

Secretary of the Interior Douglas McKay and the AMI, Inc., signed a cooperative agreement on October 7, 1955, which more precisely stated the terms of the partnership. It provided that the AMI would "conduct a national campaign to raise funds for the cost of the design and construction" of the museum and for an endowment fund for its future use. The NPS and Department of the Interior would plan, design, build, and administer the museum with "the advice and counsel of the AMI." Much of the consultation would occur at periodic meetings of a Joint Development Committee. That body first met in Washington, D.C., on May 14, 1956, at which time it was decided that its membership should include the secretary of the interior, the director, and other designated personnel of the NPS, selected officers of the AMI, and three public members, one of whom should be president of the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society. The trustees of the AMI also created an Historians Committee, chaired by Dr. John A. Krout of Columbia University; among its members were such respected scholars as Oscar Handlin of Harvard, Theodore Blegen of the University of Minnesota, and Carl Wittke of Case Western Reserve University. The committee defined as its role advising the Joint Development Committee on the themes and content of the museum exhibits. However, the "final decision with respect to specific displays" rested with the NPS. [10]

Even before the AMI, Inc., and the National Park Service signed their cooperative agreement, the backers of the museum began to organize their fundraising campaign. In April 1955, the AMI opened its national headquarters at 270 Park Avenue in New York in space donated by business executive William Zeckendorf. The professional staff it hired proceeded to implement the preliminary operations plan, drafted by Baldwin and Mermey. [11]

The plan called for initially soliciting large donations as seed money to attract further funds. Chairman of the AMI Executive Committee du Pont contributed $50,000 and lent another $50,000 to underwrite administrative expenses. The other trustees pledged similar or lesser amounts. During 1955-56, such business and labor organizations as Baker and Co., Inc., of New Jersey, Circle Line-Statue of Liberty Ferry, the International Ladies Garment Workers' Union, and the Sidney Hillman Foundation agreed to become group sponsors, each donating between $5,000 and $7,500. [12]

Simultaneously, national headquarters attempted to organize campaign committees in twenty key cities which contained the bulk of the nation's population. These included Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis, New York, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Baldwin, Grant, and other AMI leaders traveled to these cities to persuade prominent local citizens to head the groups. Among the chairmen they recruited were steel executive Benjamin F. Fairless in Pittsburgh, Major General L. J. Sverdrup in St. Louis, department store magnate Cyril Magnin in San Francisco, and motion picture executive Samuel G. Engel in Los Angeles. National headquarters aided these committees by supplying them with promotional literature and, in several instances, hired local professional fund-raisers to work with them.

Finally, the AMI contacted various national and ethnic organizations to obtain both their endorsement for the museum and promises that they would raise money from their chapters all over the country. Early successes in this field came when the Ladies Auxiliary of the Veterans of Foreign Wars voted to collect $50,000 from its members; B'nai Brith, Catholic War Veterans, and the Lithuanian-American Council, among others, also agreed to conduct drives within their groups. [13]

Meanwhile, both national headquarters and some of the AMI community committees sought to popularize the project with as much media coverage as possible. On December 9, 1955, du Pont appeared on Edward R. Murrow's "Person to Person " show on CBS television to discuss the planned museum and appeal for contributions. A short film made by 20th Century Fox, entitled "Lady of the Golden Door," informed a large audience about the project in 1956 when it played at the Roxy Theater in New York and many other movie houses. Du Pont and United Steel Workers President David J. McDonald (co-chairman of the national public appeal) were interviewed on Ed Sullivan's CBS program on October 21, 1956. In June 1955 and in 1956 the AMI staged National Unity gatherings at the Statue of Liberty to attract further publicity. The 1956 celebration featured movie stars such as Celeste Holm, a speech by David Sarnoff of RCA, and a tree planting ceremony with representatives of thirty-seven ethnic groups, many in their traditional costumes. The Chicago committee even ran a "Goddess of Liberty" beauty contest to select the girl who most nearly typified the ideals of freedom and beauty symbolized by the statue. The winner would receive a free trip to Paris, a modeling course, a "ward robe fit for a goddess" and a movie screen-test. [14]

Unfortunately, the hoopla and other efforts did not produce impressive financial results. By September 1956, only 34 individuals had contributed $2,500 or more to the museum; the AMI had hoped for at least 200 such founders before initiating the formal national appeal. Only five business corporations had donated $5,000 or more, not the target number of 100. The foundations which commonly supported cultural and arts development had offered nothing, and most of the community committees were costing more to maintain than they were producing. As of November 1955, national headquarters had sunk almost $18,000 into the Chicago area and some $6,500 into Cleveland, with no cash return. The most important metropolitan committee, New York, was barely functioning because no one would volunteer to take the chairmanship. On the eve of what was supposed to be the climax and final stage of the campaign, the AMI had a balance sheet that showed a deficit of approximately $117,000. [15]

Nonetheless, the organization pushed ahead bravely, announcing that between October 28, 1956, and Thanksgiving Day it would appeal to the American people for $5,000,000 to develop the museum. AMI kicked off Operation Unity, as they dubbed the drive, with a celebration on Liberty Island commemorating the 70th birthday of the statue's dedication. A twenty-one-gun salute from Fort Jay on Governors Island preceded an address by Secretary of the Interior Fred A. Seaton and the lighting of a symbolic cardboard cake with the appropriate number of candles. [16]

Seaton, Hamilton, Moore
Secretary of the Interior Fred A. Seaton (center), chairman of the New York City National Shrines Advisory Board, Alexander Hamilton (right) and Secretary of the NYC National Shrines Advistory Board L. Porter Moore (left). They gathered at Liberty Island to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the dedication of the Statue of Liberty and start of Operation Unity, the public fund-raising campaign for the American Museum of Immigration, October 28, 1956.
(Source: Photograph Collection of the American Museum of Immigration, Liberty Island, U.S. Department of the Interior, NPS)

Operation Unity received many small donations, including some from school children as far away as the Marianas Islands. Labor support also grew, with $5,000 contributions from the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Textile Workers Union, and several others. As Thanksgiving approached, however, it was obvious that the organization was not going to achieve its $5,000,000 goal. As of November 14, 1956, AMI had barely $50,000 over its expenses. To complicate the situation, national headquarters received notice that the building it occupied would be torn down by mid-December. Still, Baldwin believed that given more time the drive would gather momentum. He therefore recommended to the Board of Trustees that Operation Unity be extended until at least March 31, 1957. Zeckendorf offered new office space on 42nd Street, and so the Board decided to press on. [17]

North Carolina high school group
A high-school group from North Carolina making a donation to help build the American Museum of Immigration. The gift was accepted by Dr. Thomas M. Pitkin, supervisory historian, Statue of Liberty National Monument (right), October 1956.
(Source: Photograph Collection of the American Museum of Immigration, Liberty Island, U.S. Department of the Interior, NPS)

Despite the renewed efforts, giving did not increase significantly and administrative costs relentlessly absorbed most of the funds. In an attempt to reorganize and refocus Operation Unity, AMI terminated all paying contracts with William Baldwin, who thereafter continued as vice chairman of the national committee on a volunteer basis. To supervise its staff, the AMI hired D. Kenneth Rose, former vice president of John Price Jones, professional fund-raisers. Early in April, Rose and the Executive Committee wrote to each member of the Board of Trustees, asking him or her to personally solicit funds from five to twenty corporate, individual or foundation prospects. Rose and the Executive Committee also tried to recruit more businessmen with "good connections" to sit on the Board of Trustees. Neither of these efforts proved successful. Many of the trustees resented being asked to act as individual fund-raisers, and only one donation materialized. Rose, additionally, wrote to Spyros Skouras, an AMI trustee and president of 20th Century Fox, requesting that he obtain contributions from movie stars.

All seemed to no avail. By the target deadline March 31, 1957, AMI accounts showed receipts (including pledges) since January 1955 of $882,823, and expenditures of $643,689. In other words, the museum fund netted only $239,137, indicating that administrative overhead had consumed nearly 73 percent of the contributions. Word from the field only heightened the gloom. The chairman of the Cleveland committee, for example, reported there were no more big gifts to be raised in his city: "Cleveland must be written off for the moment." [18]

With growing desperation, the AMI leaders looked to the federal government for assistance. As Rose put it, they had to convince the Eisenhower Administration of the "...importance of a successful AMI campaign to America's prestige in the cold war . . . . " Hoping it would boost collections in the West, Grant invited Vice President Richard M. Nixon to serve as honorary chairman of the Southern California Citizens Committee for AMI. In May 1957, Nixon consented to do so. On May 9, Grant, du Pont, and Hamilton met with Under Secretary of the Interior Hatfield Chilson and told him of their financial situation. They implored Chilson to use the influence of the department and the entire Eisenhower Administration to talk some distinguished industrialist into chairing the still leaderless New York committee and to recruit another prominent executive to head a new AMI National Corporations Committee aimed at obtaining sizable grants from big business. The Under Secretary sympathized with them and promised administration backing. Grant went so far as to write to Eisenhower, asking him to become honorary chairman of Operation Unity. This, however, the President declined on the ground that it was his policy not to head any private group. [19]

Even while the AMI Board members sought this help from the Administration, they realized Operation Unity could not be salvaged. At its May 28, 1957, meeting, the Executive Committee voted to terminate the public appeal as of June 30 ". . .in order not to spend any more of the contributed monies on administrative expenses." Kenneth Rose tendered his resignation. Plans were made to furlough almost all the remaining staff and to dispose of the office furniture.

By the spring of 1957, du Pont, Grant, Hamilton and the others had concluded that to keep faith with those who had sent donations and to actually build and develop a museum, they would have to explore additional means of financing besides the free will gifts of the American people. On April 2, Grant wrote to Ronald Lee, then chief of the Division of Interpretation of the NPS, asking the following questions. First, under the 1955 New York City National Shrines Advisory Board Act, did the federal government have the authority to match the AMI's privately donated funds with money appropriated by Congress? If so, would the Service be willing to do that in order to complete the museum? Second, could the NPS find tax dollars to finish the pedestal of the statue, allowing contributions of the AMI to go solely for preparation of the interior for the museum and the design and construction of its exhibits?

Two weeks later, NPS Director Conrad Wirth answered Grant's queries. The solicitor of the Department of Interior had discovered that the 1955 law provided only for federal matching funds for purposes of "rehabilitation" and "preservation" of Federal Hall, Castle Clinton and the Statue of Liberty. In the solicitor's opinion the museum was a development project and, therefore, not covered under the act. Director Wirth wrote that the department was prepared to remedy this difficulty by requesting Congress to amend the existing statute to include development, and he was hopeful of the outcome. However, he cautioned, "This, of course, will take time."

Wirth also indicated that the service would be "glad to explore with AMI the possibility. . . " of using tax monies rather than private donations to complete the pedestal. On June 7, Hamilton met Wirth to discuss this idea more fully. Subsequently, Wirth instructed the chief of the Division of Design and Construction to prepare cost estimates for finishing the statue's base, including "all excavation and rough construction work necessary to provide sufficient space" for the proposed museum. The Director mentioned the job might be done with funds available for MISSION 66 (the ten-year program of the NPS to improve, develop, and protect the scenic and historic resources under its care and make them adequate to serve the steadily increasing numbers of visitors). [20]

As Wirth had warned, amending the law took time, but also as he had predicted, it was approved. The Department submitted a draft bill to Congress in September 1957, which simply inserted the word "development" into the 1955 act. Congress passed and President Eisenhower signed Public Law 85-658 in August 1958.

Since Wirth was almost certain the amendment would pass, he agreed with du Pont, Grant, and Hamilton that the 1955 cooperative agreement between the secretary of the interior and the AMI must also be changed to reflect the new financing arrangements. At the Joint Development Committee meeting of May 9, 1957, attended by both Wirth and Lee, the document was amended to read that the NPS would build and develop the museum out of funds contributed by AMI "and other sources and funds made available by Congress." These "other sources" might be appropriated "outright or on condition that they be matched with" privately donated monies. The director submitted the amended agreement to the department's solicitor and to the secretary of the interior for final approval, which was obtained in September 1957. [21]

Hamilton, du Pont, Grant, and the others were much encouraged by these government commitments; they took further comfort from a new, modest architectural plan drawn up in early 1959 by the NPS Division of Design and Construction that indicated an immigration museum might be built for about $2,350,000 instead of the $4,500,000 estimated at an earlier date. With the matching arrangement, that meant the AMI, Inc., had to raise approximately $1,175,000, rather than the $5,000,000 originally announced.

The brighter outlook led the Executive Committee of AMI to contact G. A. Brakeley & Co., Inc., professional fund-raisers. After months of consultation, the AMI hired this organization in February 1959 to examine why Operation Unity had failed, to weigh the chances for future success, and to make recommendations for a revitalized money-raising campaign.

During this evaluation the Brakeley people interviewed members of the AMI Board of Trustees and its former staff, key contributors, labor, business and foundation executives, and knowledgeable public officials. Many of those interviewed attributed the failure, at least in part, to inept leadership. Kenneth Rose, former executive director of AMI, said du Pont and Hamilton were two "nice guys" but not able executives. Baldwin, he charged, knew nothing about fund-raising. At least one trusteee criticized du Pont and Hamilton for signing a contract with Baldwin and Mermey for an "excessive retainer." [22]

Similar assessments came from sources other than the Brakeley study. In August 1958, Leonard Dreyfuss and Gardner Osborn (trustees of the AMI), met with NPS regional director Daniel J. Tobin. They claimed that Grant, du Pont and Hamilton were simply not "workers," and they doubted that under their guidance the AMI would ever be able to raise $1,000,000. Baldwin himself, in a 1961 letter to du Pont, wrote:

What I frankly fear is that we may again drift into the perennial pattern of Sandy [Alexander Hamilton] going abroad in the early spring, returning just a few days before you go on vacation, and then himself leaving for a summer in Maine.

In addition to poor leadership, several of those questioned felt the AMI had not thought through either the location or type of museum it wanted to develop. Lacking a clear conception, it could not sell the idea to a broad public. Edward Corsi, former commissioner of immigration and an AMI trustee, suggested tying the museum to rehabilitation of Ellis Island and thereby making "one big project with real appeal." Robert Moses said more bluntly, "The American Museum of Immigration has no appeal. Immigrants went through Castle Clinton and Ellis Island, not Liberty Island." [23]

The Brakely investigation pointed to two other weaknesses of the earlier drive: excessive administrative costs ("about the highest of any reputable campaign we know about") and failure to recruit a chairman for a New York committee, in the city that should have spearheaded the whole national effort. Nonetheless, the report stated that the public relations achievements of Operation Unity had been "very real": millions of people were made aware of the project. As a result, donations had continued to come in after June 1957, and by early 1959 the AMI had collected more than $300,000 for the museum.

The Brakeley study concluded there was a good prospect for success with a renewed campaign, provided the following steps were taken: 1) attract new, active leadership and a more competent administrative staff at AMI headquarters; 2) find private underwriting for the drive to assure contributors that all donations would be used for the museum; 3) approach the Rockefeller and other foundations with a clear, concise museum project proposal; 4) concentrate on twenty-five or thirty prospective big donors; 5) broaden and intensify the appeal to ethnic groups, especially Czechs, Jews, Italians, French, and Germans; and 6) hire an experienced fund-raising firm.

The AMI began to implement the recommendations. They raised underwriting money, most of it contributed by du Pont, who also paid more than $8,000 in fees for the Brakeley report out of his own pocket. The AMI staff, relocated in space provided by the NPS at Federal Hall, showed renewed energy. The Executive Committee hired Brakeley and Co. to serve as its fund-raising advisor on the reactivated effort. [24]

The fund-raising campaign initiated in the fall of 1959 proved less costly than the earlier one, but was no more successful. The AMI received some additional gifts from ethnic groups and from business executives, but appeals to foundations and corporations produced little but rejection letters.

Then, in October 1960, Hamilton wrote cheerfully to Leonard Dreyfuss, "There may be good news around the corner!" Secretary of the Interior Fred Seaton had decided that rehabilitation, preservation, and development projects at Castle Clinton, Federal Hall, and the Statue of Liberty should be completed in time for the World's Fair scheduled to open in New York in 1964. Seaton was prepared to ask Congress for stepped-up appropriations to further meet this objective and had requested the New York City National Shrines Advisory Board to help raise private money as well.

Hamilton, who among his other offices served as chairman of that board, reported to Dreyfuss that it would form a non-profit corporation known as the New York City National Shrines Associates. The Associates would act as a coordinating group, assisting the AMI, Inc., Federal Hall Memorial Associates, Inc., and Castle Clinton Monument Association in their separate drives to raise money for each of the sites. Among the directors of the Shrines Associates were such prominent New Yorkers as retired Admiral John J. Bergen, chairman, Graham-Paige Corporation; John D. Butt, chairman, American Trust Company; and L. Porter Moore, vice president of the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association. These men, Hamilton reasoned, would have better connections for obtaining foundation, bank and corporate gifts than AMI. [25] While Hamilton's sanguine expectations for the Shrines Associates never materialized, the combined efforts of the AMI and the Shrines Associates brought collections for the museum to nearly $419,000 by September 30, 1961.

During the previous summer an Interior Department Appropriations Act passed Congress and was signed by President Kennedy. It contained an item providing $1,000,000 to match private donations for the work at the New York City monuments. Four hundred thousand dollars of this was earmarked for the American Museum of Immigration at the base of the statue. In September, the NPS notified the Shrines Advisory Board of these facts and requested the matching contribution. On the evening of October 10, 1961, at a dinner in New York given by the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association, Pierre du Pont handed Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall the AMI matching check that would, finally, enable construction to begin. [26]

The federal appropriation and private monies were almost enough to cover the first stage of construction, that is, excavation of the landfill between the statue's pedestal and the walls of Fort Wood and erection of the concrete shell of the base which would also house the museum. To complete the project by the 1964 World's Fair, however, the AMI still had to produce the remainder of its half of the cost. Therefore, the search for donations continued.

In April 1962, Mayor Robert Wagner, a member of the New York City Shrines Advisory Board, requested the city's Board of Estimate to amend the capital budget to provide a contribution of $250,000 toward the work underway at Federal Hall, Castle Clinton, and the Statue of Liberty. The Board of Estimate gave its approval and the city presented a check to the Shrines Advisory Board in July. The Shrines Advisory Board, in turn, allocated $50,000 of the donation to the museum of immigration. [27]

The following spring, L. Porter Moore, secretary of the Shrines Advisory Board, met in Washington, D.C., with Mrs. Dexter Otis Arnold, president of the General Federation of Women's Clubs. He approached her because in 1954, the group she headed had contributed $200,000 to restore and refurnish the first floor of Independence Hall. Moore wondered if the civic-minded women might be willing to undertake a similar fund drive to build and develop the immigration museum. Mrs. Arnold was interested to know more, and Moore agreed to ask the NPS to present a detailed account of the project.

Director Conrad Wirth and Supervisory Historian Thomas Pitkin, who had written the Prospectus for the museum, arrived soon afterward to acquaint Mrs. Arnold with the plans and urge her to help raise the money to make the museum a reality. Mrs. Arnold responded that fund-raising for the AMI would become the principal activity of the Women's Clubs for the rest of the year. In order to fire the enthusiasm of the organization's members, she invited Wirth to address its annual convention in Milwaukee on June 14 and to distribute brochures and other promotional literature to the delegates. The "Strengthen the Arm of Liberty" drive, as the Women's Clubs called their collections effort, eventually raised over $41,000 for the museum.

Meanwhile, the fund-raising firm of Brakeley & Co. persuaded George Textor, president of Marine Midland Bank, to chair an AMI Finance Committee aimed at obtaining large gifts from the business world. Pierre du Pont generously pledged another $50,000 and Lawrence Rockefeller, $20,000, but before the campaign made much headway it was undermined by allegations of misuse of funds. [28]

On June 11, 1963, the New York World-Telegram ran a critical article and editorial about the AMI, Inc., and its activities; these were followed by stories in the New York Times and the Herald Tribune. The newspapers claimed that in eight years (1955-1963) the AMI had received $1.3 million in contributions from the public, of which it had spent $800,000 in "so-called expenses--travel, lunches, professional fund-raisers and so on," leaving only $450,000 for building the museum. The World-Telegram proclaimed, "All those people who have given. . .deserve more of an explanation than they have received."

At an emergency strategy meeting, attended by du Pont, Textor, George Brakeley, and Pitkin (representing the NPS), the AMI attempted to repair the harm done to its public image. The participants decided to issue a "White Paper" stressing that the New York Attorney General's Office had given the AMI a clean bill of health and that since 1957 the whole administrative expense of fund-raising had been privately underwritten. In that way, AMI could assure donors that every penny they gave went directly for developing the museum. While this answer may have soothed the injury somewhat, it did not cure it. [29]

As of June 30, 1963, the situation was as follows. Congress had appropriated another $450,000 for the museum in fiscal 1963, and program adjustments within the NPS had provided an additional $170,400. To date, the federal government had put $1,020,400 into the construction. Private donations had reached $512,000, though the AMI had actually turned over to the NPS a little over $400,000. If the museum was to be completed by October 1964, in time for the World's Fair, the supporters still had to raise over $700,000.

With the flow of new gifts reduced to a trickle after the news stories, the AMI came nowhere close to reaching the goal. As a result, by the target date, the exterior of the base was nearly finished, but nothing had been accomplished on the interior. In November 1964, the NPS notified the AMI that all further work would have to halt at the expiration of the contracts then in effect. No new obligations could be assumed since government appropriations had run out and donated monies lagged far behind the federal investment.

Left with an empty shell, the museum backers were challenged to find new ways to raise money. Soon the National Shrines Advisory Board came forward with a scheme. Under the authority of Public Law 88-262, passed by Congress in January 1964, the board proposed to strike and market commemorative medallions of the Statue of Liberty. To finance this project, L. Porter Moore wrote to the General Federation of Women's Clubs requesting an interest-free loan of $25,000 out of the $41,000 the women had collected for the immigration museum. The money would be repaid out of proceeds from the sale of the medallions, and many additional dollars would be taken in to initiate work on the interior.

The Women's Clubs agreed, and in June 1964 the medallions went on sale at Gimbels and other department stores--bronze at $4, silver for $10. Unfortunately, the Shrines Advisory Board apparently overlooked other and probably better marketing outlets. The concessionaire at Liberty Island felt certain he could have sold many of these medals to tourists, but he never received any. Sales proved so limited that they did not provide enough revenue to pay back the loan, much less earn any profits for the museum. In 1967, when the NPS requested the Shrines Advisory Board to return the $25,000, the board replied by asking if the service would accept as repayment unsold medallions having a retail value of $40,000. The NPS declined, stating that even if it could eventually dispose of the medals it saw no legal way to manage such a transaction. As late as the mid-1970s the loan had not been repaid and boxes of unsold medallions rested in the basement of Federal Hall. [30]

In November 1964 a new personality appeared on the scene. Gerald A. Kearney, a New York attorney who once described himself as "one of the last [Irish] immigrants to pass through Ellis Island," sent John A. Townsley, superintendent of the New York City NPS Group, a letter and certificate of incorporation in the State of New York for the National Historic Shrines Foundation. Kearney's letter and the document explained that the purpose of his foundation was to raise funds for the museum and for any future development of Ellis Island that the NPS might undertake, as well as to solicit donations of immigrant artifacts for exhibits in the immigration museum. Since Kearney had not cleared his plans with the NPS or entered into a cooperative agreement with it, Townsley and Regional Director Ronald Lee, whom the superintendent informed about the matter, were wary and asked Kearney to delay any money-raising campaigns until they had time to study his proposals and to coordinate them with those of the New York City National Shrines Advisory Board.

Kearney's energy and interest soon persuaded several major New York politicians, such as Paul O'Dwyer, Emmanuel Celler, and Mario Procaccino, to lend their names as honorary trustees for the foundation. Although the Park Service never formalized a relationship with the organization, it did, for a time, cooperate with the group. NPS Historian George Svejda and Kearney showed journalists some of the objects already obtained for the museum. Statue of Liberty Superintendent Lester McClanahan helped Kearney arrange a public relations tour of the island for members of the press and potential foundation supporters. They led the guests through the bare cavity under the shell that would someday, they hoped, house the museum.

Kearney wrote press releases about the need for money to complete the museum and urged the public to send donations to the Historic Shrines Foundation. He presented an hour-long television program on WOR-TV, Channel 9, on the evening of February 22, 1966. Called "They Entered the Golden Door: The Immigrant Impact on America," the show featured Kearney discussing the museum with Celler, Procaccino, O'Dwyer, and Judge Samual A. Spiegel. Kearney's most ambitious plan, however, involved persuading well-known artists to contribute their works to the foundation so that it could auction them off and hand the proceeds to the Park Service for the museum. Louise Nevelson contributed a sculpture worth $15,000; Salvador Dali promised to paint a picture of the Statue of Liberty on a television program and then allow it to be auctioned to the highest bidder. Kearney anticipated it would bring in at least $25,000.

Controversy soon swirled around Kearney's activities. Historian Svejda wrote memos to his supervisors complaining of the lawyer's treatment of him personally, the inaccurate statements in Kearney's press releases and TV program, and the undignified ways in which he solicited contributions. Kearney sued Salvador Dali for reneging on his offer to paint on television, and a representative from the New York State Attorney General's office called the NYC NPS Group on February 9, 1966, to report "several complaints concerning the National Historic Foundation, Inc. and the American Museum of Immigration activities." In May 1967, Acting Regional Director George A. Palmer wrote to Washington, "Ever since Gerald Kearney and his National Historic Shrines, Foundation, Inc. have come on the scene we have gone through periods of tension, controversy and even a few personal arguments. It would appear public interest is not always the driving force in some of these fund-raising drives."

Kearney never held the auction nor did he turn over any money to the NPS. Eventually, complaints against the organization led the New York Attorney General's office to order it dissolved and the art objects returned to their creators. As late as 1969, puzzled painters who inquired of the Service what had happened to their works were being referred to the Charity Frauds Division of the Attorney General's Office. [31]

The AMI, Inc., meanwhile was barely functioning. Its fund-raising drive had come to a halt and the increase in its capital account came almost entirely from interest the money was earning. By September 30, 1967, AMI had transferred $492,273 to the NPS out of that fund and had remaining in it $209,719. It had no ability to launch still another public campaign since at the end of 1967 it had a mere $9.28 left in its General Fund for operating expenses. Only a $2,000 gift from General Grant and similar underwriting from other Executive Committee members kept the office open and tiny staff employed.

As a result of these experiences NPS Acting Regional Director Palmer advised in 1967 that the work on the museum be finished with congressional appropriations as they became available. The time had come, he wrote, to "arrange some appropriate. . .luncheon at the Cosmos Club or elsewhere to recognize the great contribution that General Grant, Sandy Hamilton and Pierre du Pont have made; tell them so publicly, and announce. . .that private fundraising is over." [32]

While Palmer's superiors in the Department of the Interior did not follow his advice about the luncheon or the public announcement, they agreed with him about obtaining public funds. In fiscal year 1967, without waiting for matching donations, the department requested and received from Congress $900,000 to begin work on the interior of the base. Fiscal year 1968 brought another appropriation, but funds for completing the museum were deleted from the fiscal 1969 budget and so progress again halted. With new monies provided by Congress and small additional donations from the AMI's capital account, the project was finally finished in 1972. By that time, actual costs were double the 1959 estimate because of inflation, the piecemeal way in which contracts were let, and controversies over the exhibits which led to several revisions. In short, the total cost of the museum, $5,000,000, was primarily paid by the taxpayers of the United States. Of that $5,000,000, approximately $450,000 came from private donations, and the City of New York contributed $50,000. [33]

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Last Updated: 24-Sep-2001