‘Lady Liberty’ still standing strong, more than three decades in the Susquehanna

DAUPHIN, Pa. -- Thirty-one years after pulling off one of the greatest pranks Central Pennsylvania has ever seen, Gene Stilp still laughs about that night in 1986.

He and his three friends didn't mean to create a national landmark. They just wanted to honor the country.

"Was it legal? Of course it was legal," Stilp says, with a grin, followed by another laugh.

It was back in 1986 when Stilp, as a way to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, decided to make his own Lady Liberty in a friend's garage.

Photo courtesy Mike Lomma

A far cry from the monstrosity which overlooks New York City, Stilp's version was a mere 17.5 feet tall, weighing 450 pounds, made out of half-inch plywood and Venetian blinds.

Photo courtesy Mike Lomma

Under the darkness of night, Stilp, and friends Ed Chubb, Mike Lomma, and Steve Oliphant left the shores of the Susquehanna River near Dauphin Borough outside Harrisburg, and boated out to an empty railroad bridge pier.

"We did this in the middle of the night," Stilp said. "And the next morning it came out the fog to everyone's wonderment."

The statue still greets commuters heading in and out of Harrisburg along Route 322, just as it did 31 years ago. Lady Liberty has undergone some makeovers in the meantime; she was knocked over in 1992, and was replaced with a stronger, sturdier version in 1997. This year, Central Pennsylvanians, proud of their own patriotic statue, are celebrating the 20th year of the current Lady Liberty on the Susquehanna.

Photo courtesy Mike Lomma

"Everyone wants to see it stay," said Joe Raymond, owner of local fishing company Susquehanna Smallmouth Guides. "It's a cool landmark for the area."

Raymond takes fishing guides upstream past the statue multiple times a week.

"A lot of my clientele want to come up because they want to see the statue," Raymond said.

Stilp still takes an active role in Lady Liberty's longevity. She has a few cracks in the foundation, and Stilp expects to be able to go out in a few weeks to make repairs. She's brought local residents happiness for 31 years, and he wants to make sure she's there for another 31, at least.

"It makes me smile," he said. "We made a lot of people happy."

Photo courtesy Mike Lomma