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A huge statue of Hawaii’s King Kamehameha I stands with an arm outstretched in welcome in downtown Honolulu. It is one of three such statues; each will be draped with lei on June 11 to commemorate King Kamehameha Day — a state holiday in Hawaii.
With its back to the state Judiciary Building (Aliiolani Hale), the Honolulu statue faces Iolani Palace. It is often seen in photos or movies of Hawaii, and features prominently in the opening for the Hawaii Five-0 television program (both the original and the new version beginning this fall). However, this statue was the second attempt to honor the King’s memory.
The first statue was commissioned by the legislature of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1879. Sculptor Thomas Gould created the statue in his Rome studio and it was cast in bronze in Paris. The statue was lost in a shipwreck near the Falkland Islands on its way to Hawaii. A second statue was cast from the same mold; it arrived safely and was unveiled in 1883 by Hawaii’s last king, Kalakaua. Later, the original statue was recovered and it now stands at the Kohala Courthouse in Kapaau on the island of Hawaii, Kamehameha’s birth place.
The third statue is one made from molds taken from the Honolulu statue. Unveiled in 1969, it stands in Washington D.C. in the collection of statues of historic figures from all 50 states. The bronze statue and its granite base weigh over six tons, making it one of the heaviest objects in the collection. Each year on June 11, a ceremony is held in front of this statue that includes hula performances and draping of lei.
In addition to these versions of the same statue, a fourth commissioned statue is in Waiola State Park on Hawaii. This statue is the tallest, standing fourteen feet. It commemorates the King’s first seat of government at Hilo.
In Honolulu, visitors and locals gather to watch as the statue is nearly covered in lei during the annual celebration. The height of the statue is eight and a half feet and it stands atop a ten-foot base. It takes a truck with a crane to get the massive lei draped around the statue’s neck.