Eli Box, 16, stands in front of the "Little Sister of Liberty" statue in downtown Columbus. The Boy Scouts gifted the statue to the city in 1950. Box, an Eagle Scout, is raising money to restore the statue and repair its base. Photo by: Isabelle Altman/Dispatch Staff
July 10, 2017 10:44:28 AM
Sixteen-year-old Eli Box realized something Friday while he was selling Krispy Kreme donuts to raise money to restore downtown Columbus' replica of the Statue of Liberty.
As people donated, many told him that when they were children, they thought the Columbus statue was the equivalent of the real model on Ellis Island in New York. To them, at least, it held the same weight.
"People perceive the Statue of Liberty (as) such a powerful monument," Eli said. "...The statue, to them, was just as real as the original one because they thought it was the original. To have something that powerful in a town like this ... is something I don't think needs to go unattended."
It made the project feel more significant, he said.
The rising junior at Golden Triangle Early College High School is raising the money for his Eagle Scout community service project as part of Troop One of the Pushmataha Council.
"Boy Scouts was founded on multiple different principles," Eli said. "But the one that has consisted through the years is being a good citizen. ... You go out in the community and you help and give your time."
The Boy Scouts gifted the statue to the City of Columbus in on Dec. 7, 1950. It was one of many miniature Statues of Liberty - "Little Sisters of Liberty" - the Boy Scouts of America gave to local communities in the years following World War II, said Mark Box, Eli's father, who is helping his son with the project.
The Little Sister of Liberty downtown on Main Street is the only one in Mississippi, Eli said. The paint has faded from its original color, the base needs work and Eli thinks there should be more than one spotlight illuminating the statue at night.
"The statue's about 67 years old right now," he said. "... Over the years, somebody painted it the color it is now. ... What we want to do is we want to take some of the paint off and we want to restore it to its original color."
He also wants to replace the base.
Eli came up with the idea for a project more than a year ago and went before the Columbus City Council to gain permission. Eli then had to submit the project to a group of scoutmasters in the Pushmataha Area Council for approval. He began his fundraising this summer.
He set a budget of $5,000 for the project, but he and Mark suspect that with volunteers working on the statue and businesses volunteering time and materials, it will only take about half that.
"That leaves us a lot of ... wiggle room in case anything goes wrong," Eli said.
He raised more than $500 Friday alone. The city council recently voted to give Eli another $500, with Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box, Eli's grandfather, excusing himself from the vote. Lowndes County Board of Supervisors also matched that donation.
Eli hopes to get the restoration itself off the ground in the next few months so the statue will be ready by December.
"We want to do a re dedication on Dec. 7," Mark said.
He thinks the project will give kids his age and younger the same feeling of pride and significance as his parents and their generation did.
"If we could have a new face on it, give it more character and more depth, maybe people will see it and it will be as powerful to them as it is to some of the people in other generations," he said.
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