Only 240 Tickets Available Each Day
By Karen Rubin and David Leiberman
For decades, only those with stamina and patience made it to the revered crown atop the Statue of Liberty. But even that was stopped after the September 11 terror attacks, for safety and security.
As of July 4, 2009, a lucky few will be able to have this unique experience.
Lucky because they will literally win a coveted spot – only 10 at a time, 240 a day out of the 2,400 who purchase tickets to visit the Monument each day (out of 14,000 people who come to Liberty Island each day).
“Unique” because there is no statue like Liberty anywhere and the physical experience of climbing, and seeing her from the inside is unique.
Crown reservations now may be made through the park’s ferry concessionaire, Statue Cruises, at www.statuecruises.com or by phone at 877- LADY-TIX (877-523-9849). Crown tickets may be reserved in advance up to one year prior to the day of the visit (so tickets for travel on September 1, 2010 will become available on-line or by phone starting at 10 a.m. on September 1, 2009). You will be able to reserve a maximum of four tickets per customer, with only one reservation allowed during any six-month period (you will have to provide the names of the people)
Crown tickets will cost an additional $3 (this has got to be the greatest bargain of all ages!) and will be combined with reserved ferry tickets, which are currently $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $5 for children (children must be at least 4-feet tall). (You will need to show photo ID to pick up the tickets for all but minor children).
Visiting Lady Liberty’s crown will be a completely different experience from before. Rather than the rush and crush and painstaking wait, being able to make that climb at an appointed time, up the narrow, double helix staircase, with just a few others accompanied by a Park Service Ranger as guide, will be an intimate, inspirational, even spiritual experience. I guarantee it.
We had the chance to experience it on a recent press preview.
We gathered together with National Park Ranger Bill Maurer, who explained the history of Liberty Island (once called Bedloe’s Island, and before that the Dutch called it Oyster Island, and the Indians who also collected oysters there, called it something else).
The island was originally used for the fortification of New York Harbor against the British, in the lead-up to the War of 1812. The 11-pointed star-shaped Fort Wood – now the base of the Statue of Liberty – was built on the island (the points were designed to ricochet cannon balls), and in conjunction with forts on Staten Island and Brooklyn, in fact kept the British from attacking New York, so they blockaded instead.
But the story of Liberty begins later. In 1865, a group of French intellectuals led by Edouard de Laboulaye, wanted to honor the ideals of freedom and liberty with a symbolic gift to the United States which would reach its centennial in 1876. The idea was also to send a message to their own countrymen, and remind them of their own ideals of liberty, freedom, and equality at a time of political repression. The American Civil War had just ended and slavery had been abolished. This was the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, with new technology, prosperity, and rekindled nationalism. His friend, the sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, who had the idea for a statue of a French Woman to stand in the middle of Suez Canal, Libertas, to light the way to Europe, instead seized on creating a modern-day Colossus for the New World.
These elements are all manifest in the symbols of the Statue herself: the crown has seven spikes (rays), for the seven days; she holds a book, with July 4, 1776 emblazoned on the cover, representing the Rule of Law, she is stepping forward, leaving old ways behind, her foot is moving forward, grinding to the ground the chains of slavery. She wears sandals (size 179), and is dressed in the Greco-Roman style, and her second toe is the largest, also in the Greco-Roman style.
In 1871, Bartholdi toured the U.S. choosing New York Harbor for the site for Liberty. General Sherman of the War Department which controlled the site, agreed to allow the statue to be placed on top of the fort (the War Department administered the Statue of Liberty until 1933 when the National Park Service took over).
In 1876, Liberty’s arm and torch were displayed at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.
In 1879, Gustav Eiffel came up with the design for the statue’s internal framework. When Liberty was built, it was the tallest structure in New York City. Indeed, the trick of engineering was creating an internal ribbing that would allow Liberty to sway in a gale. And when we climb inside, it is Eiffel’s engineering we appreciate most.
The statue was assembled in Paris, between 1881-84, and in 1885, was dismantled and shipped to New York City in 514 crates.
But that left the problem of funding the construction of Liberty’s pedestal. Joseph Pulitzer, an immigrant himself who came from Hungary, was publisher of the New York World, and seized on the idea. He offered contests, lottery, and if you sent in change, you would get name in newspaper. The clincher was that if you sent money, he would publish your baby’s name in the paper.
Finally, the statue was assembled on Bedloe’s Island in 1886, and dedicated on Oct. 28.
At last, we go through the airport-style security system, and walk into the base, where we are greeted by the original torch, dramatically set in the lobby as you walk in. You are reminded that Liberty was originally the second largest Lighthouse in the world. But the original torch was corroded because of saltwater and had to be taken down in 1984, when Liberty was renovated before it was rededicated, in 1986 on its centennial, and replaced with a gilded torch (which Bartholdi had wanted in the first place). Seeing the torch so close, from all sides and from the mezzanine above, is even more magnificent.
The Climb to the Crown
It is 240 steps to the top of the pedestal but we take an elevator to the bottom of the double-helix staircase that winds up the middle of the statue itself, where we begin our climb.
We are surprised that the elevator is not an innovation of the recent renovation. This one was renovated in 1984, but an elevator was installed in 1907, piston-powered like a subway train, and they charged 10 cents extra. The elevator goes to the 10th floor pedestal, and then you climb 24 steps to view the Statue’s interior from underneath.
Now at the base of the statue itself, we peer up and appreciate how narrow -and dark – it is inside. You can’t get the whole view.
From here, it is an arduous journey of 354 steps in a cramped, enclosed area to the crown. It is surprisingly physically demanding – the staircase, a double helix that lets you go up in one direction to the top, and then back down a different stair – is narrow (only 19-inches wide), steep, and shallow (headroom 6’2″ but seems tighter than that) and was never meant to accommodate a lot of people.
You have to be able to tolerate hot, stuffy, cramped environment – do not attempt this is you are prone to claustrophobia (fear of confined spaces), acrophobia (fear of heights) or vertigo (dizziness). It is about 20 degrees hotter from the base to the top.
You find yourself bonding with your companions on the climb, several of whom will likely be from other countries, and there will be moments when you will share experiences.
Inside the Statue
But it is inside that you appreciate Gustav Eiffel’s amazing engineering. Three years before he built the Eiffel Tower, he figured out the technology to make Liberty, at the time the tallest statue in the world, stand.
Lady Liberty’s copper skin is only 3/32 of an inch thick (about as thick as two pennies), supported by a web of steel bars, connected to four main pylons, forming a skeleton that conforms to the contours. The secret to how the statue has been able to stand up to a gale-force wind is that it is flexible to move: originally, the iron ribbing had asbestos between the joints, which has been replaced with Teflon.
You are really focusing on climbing the narrow, twisting stairs, one by one, and you may not even be able to raise your head or dare to reach out and gently touch the “skin.” But you should stop a moment to study the impressions of the folds of the dress, the nose (which is 4’6″ long), the eyes, the hair.
And then after maybe 15 minutes or so, you are at the crown.
Don’t make the climb for the view – you actually don’t see much through the tiny, angled windows of the crown. You make the climb for the physical connection to Liberty.
We ask Park Ranger Mike Sheehan what people say surprises them most. “People say, ‘It’s not that tall,’ when I tell them it was tallest structure in New York City when it was built.”
But you only really appreciate how tall it is, how big it is, when you climb inside.
The oddest question? Suicide. It seems this is rare but occurred in 1929 after the Stock Market Crash, and once in the 1990s.
The Statue has been taken over by in the past – by Native Americans, Hispanic-Puerto Ricans, Women’s Suffrage, a group protesting the Shah of Iran – but only to make a statement- never to damage the statue.
To us, the biggest surprise is to learn that Liberty did not become a real tourist attraction until after World War II – especially as we see the lines of people already forming at the beginning of the day. Some 11,000 people had visited just the day before.
We are captivated by Liberty, so we go into the Museum that is in the base (you would have to visit the Museum before climbing to the Crown, since there is a one-way staircase that takes you outside the structure, outside security and you would not be able to re-enter).
The museum displays all sorts of artifacts related to Liberty’s construction, the historical and social context (the “backstory”), the tourist paraphernalia (I learn that a postcard collection that I had enjoyed 15 years ago was destroyed when the roof leaked).
It is amazing that something as fixed in place as this “colossus” of a statue can so neatly embody the changing political and social currents.
In fact, the Statue of Liberty was only declared a national monument in 1924, the same year that Ellis Island was closed as an immigration center, and the anti-immigration movement took over.
It is interesting that after World War I, when immigration plummeted as a result of anti-immigration sentiments and restrictive immigration laws, interest in visiting the statue also waned – until World War II, when the image of Liberty was used to sell war bonds or enlist in the military.
We are fascinated by the display about Emma Lazarus, who lived only 38 years, from 1849-1887. In response to a call for poetry about the Statue, Emma Lazarus donated a poem, “The New Colossus,” vividly depicting Liberty as refuge from the miseries of Europe. She sent it in 1883, and at the time, it received little attention, but in 1903, in the midst of the largest migration in human history, the notion of Liberty as the beacon of freedom for refugees from poverty and oppression, was engraved on a bronze plaque and affixed to the statue (the plaque is now in the museum at the base of the Statue). Still, it was only in 1930s, as millions fled Fascism, that the poem was identified with the statue. In the museum, you see the original bronze plaque (it troubles me that it was removed from the Statue).
In the museum, there is a wonderful 12-minute video about the construction of the Statue.
But what most impresses us, are the voices of people recalling their first sight of Liberty, that beacon of hope and freedom, as they entered New York harbor and their new homeland.
For this part of the story, though, you get back on the ferry, arriving at Ellis Island, the National Immigration Museum, just as 12 million others have, before you.
The Statue of Liberty crown tour will be available daily, except if weather or other conditions make it unsafe (more evidence that this is as much a physical exercise as an intellectual one). For more information, visitwww.nps.gov/npnh/index.htm; a FAQ sheet is available atwww.nps.gov/stli/upload/STLI-FAQs_Crown%20Tickets_Final.pdf. To reserve tickets online, go to www.statuecruises.com or call 877- LADY-TIX (877-523-9849).
See also: Ellis Island
Tuesday, 16 June, 2009
© 2009 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit us online at www.travelwritersmagazine.com and at www.familytravelnetwork.com. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com.