The Real Color of New York City is "Statue of Liberty Green"

But black is a close second.

Image: Ryan H

Technically the official colors of New York City’s flag (lol) are blue, white and orange. But this week’s New Yorker has a lovely little meditation from Ian Frazier on one of the only other colors more iconic in New York than the signature robin’s egg blue mixed exclusively for Tiffany & Co. The lovely, sandy mint-green patina of Lady Liberty. Frazier writes, “At the Statue’s unveiling, in 1886, it was brown, like a penny. By 1906, oxidation had covered it with a green patina.” Initially people were alarmed by this:

As might be expected, when the Statue of Liberty turned green people in positions of authority wondered what to do. The Army was in charge of the Statue then, because it had been erected on Bedloe’s Island, which was an active military base. In 1906, New York newspapers printed stories saying that the Statue was soon to be painted. The public did not like the idea. The officer in charge of the base, Captain George C. Burnell, told the Times, “I wish the newspapers had never mentioned that. I am in receipt of bushels of letters on the subject, and most of them protest vigorously against the proposed plan. I can’t say now just what we will do, but we will have to do something.”

(But thank goodness nothing was done.)

It turns out the special green color is less a color than it is a quality. As one architect tells Frazier, “The patina is an organic part of its handmade quality. Patina is a crystalline structure; it’s not opaque like paint. You’re looking into it. The copper, which is quite pure, is almost all still the original, after all this time. The patina has been growing for a hundred and thirty years.”

The Statue of Liberty’s Beguiling Green

This is one of those stories that seems somehow like you must have read it before—déjà lu!—in this exact publication by this exact same writer. At this The New Yorker has always excelled. And once you read the story, you’ll be noticing the color everywhere. If you haven’t yet, read the whole thing.