Column: Paris’ accidental memorial
A monumental flame in Paris was intended as a symbol of friendship between two nations. A tragic coincidence transformed that flame into a much-visited memorial.
In 1989, the International Herald Tribune donated to the citizens of Paris a full-sized replica of the flame that now extends from the torch of the Statue of Liberty in the entrance to the New York Harbor. Named “The Flame of Liberty,” the gold-covered copper sculpture was provided on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the newspaper’s first publication of an English language edition in Paris. The gift returned a favor to France, which had given the Statue of Liberty to the United States on the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. The flame also recognized the support of French citizens in the 1986 restoration of the Statue of Liberty. Among other things, the restoration returned the torch flame to the original design of French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, replacing a version that included large glass-covered openings so the statue could be used as a lighthouse, as it was from 1886 until 1901. After more prominent locations for the 11-foot-tall Flame of Liberty were rejected by Parisian authorities, it was placed on a black and gray marble pedestal above the western opening of the Pont de l’Alma Tunnel that conducts l’Avenue de New-York under the Place de l’Alma.
On Aug. 31, 1997, Diana, the Princess of Wales, was fatally injured in an automobile accident inside the Pont de l’Alma Tunnel. Mourners immediately began placing flowers and other expressions of their grief and respect at the base of the Flame of Liberty, located just above where she had died. As a result, the gold flame near the Place de l’Alma has become an unofficial memorial to Princess Diana, with many visitors assuming it was erected in her honor.