A visit with Lady Liberty

Perhaps among the most familiar symbols of the United States to the world, the Statue of Liberty, is so much more than a figure that towers 151 feet, 1 inch over the busy New York Harbor. Lady Liberty represents freedom, democracy and international collaboration, marking an era when immigration to the U.S. numbered in the millions, the greatest migration in human history.

The Eighth Wonder of the World
A gift from France to the U.S., the statue was conceived in 1865 by a group of French intellectuals protesting political repression in their own country. They chose to honor our young country’s ideals of freedom and liberty.

Sculptor Auguste Bartholdi decided to create a modern-day Colossus. As Parisians watched its construction, they dubbed it “the eighth wonder of the world.”

Her arm and torch were displayed at the U.S. Centennial’s exposition in Philadelphia. Twenty-one years after the birth of the idea, after being shipped in pieces and reassembled, “Liberty Enlightening the World” stood complete for her dedication in 1885.

Bartholdi shared his philosophy on the making of Liberty. “Colossal statuary does not consist simply in making an enormous statue. It ought to produce an emotion in the breast of the spectator, not because of its volume, but because its size is in keeping with the idea that it interprets and with the place it ought to occupy.”

Symbolism dominates the statue. She wears shackles on her feet, representing the freedom from oppression that America is supposed to represent. Her crown features seven spikes to represent both the world’s seven seas and the seven continents. Her torch symbolizes enlightenment.

The torch actually served as a lighthouse until 1986, when the statue underwent restoration and renovation. And where visitors could once climb into her arm and view the harbor from the torch windows, today they are restricted to her crown. The old corroded torch was removed and is inside her museum; the new torch is covered in gold leaf. Fun fact: the government had to reserve a whole energy plant just to power the statue.

Liberty Built Upon a Fort
Declared a National Monument in 1924, and now a part of the National Park Service, the statue stands on a 254-foot 5-tiered stone pedestal which is seated on the star-shaped Fort Wood. This was built on Bedloe’s Island (now called Liberty Island) in 1811 to protect the young city.

There are places every American should have on their bucket list, and Lady Liberty is one of them. While we often see her on TV, seeing her in person is akin to the difference between seeing a photo of Yosemite and visiting it. It takes your breath away. She is massive, striking, imposing. And mint green.

Why? Coated with a 3/32 of an inch layer of copper, she suffers from patination, in which aging copper turns green due to chemical reactions between metal and water (often called verdigris). Imagine what she must have looked like when first erected – as shiny as a new copper penny! She would have glowed in the harbor, a beacon to everyone arriving by ship. Upon her tablet, tucked in her left arm, is the date of our Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776 – in Roman numerals.

She Stands Guard Over You
The multi-deck ferry boats that transport you from the New York City Battery to the statue can be so busy, a reservation is needed. Be aware that security is tight, equivalent to the TSA airport checkpoints.

As your ferry approaches Liberty Island, you can feel the energy, people crowding to hang over the railings to try and catch a full torso photo. Pouring off the gangway, they scatter everywhere around the coffin-shaped island, gawking at the enormous statue. Her face reminded me of the ancient Roman statues of Minerva – the goddess of wisdom. Serene, stern, wise.

Lady Liberty is so popular that reservations for the crown tour must be booked months in advance; it was closed after the 9/11 attacks, and only reopened in 2009. You also need to make reservations to visit the museum and observation levels (within the monument), and must pass through additional security screening. Be prepared for stairs – lots and lots of stairs!

Even roaming around her base and learning her history from the many information placards is a grand experience. The babble of countless languages from hundreds of throats surrounds you, and the mood is electric. You frequently have to halt or reroute yourself to dodge clicking cameras. Fresh Atlantic Ocean breezes ramble across the water, and you can see Manhattan’s ever-growing skyline reflecting the sun, in particular the new glass World Trade Center.

Lady Liberty has presided over it all for 131 years.

If you go: The island features an information center, audio tour pavilion, and a café, bookstore and gift shop. To learn more, www.nps.gov/stli/index.htm, where you can download apps, make reservations, and even check out the live web cams. If you have the time, also plan to visit historic Ellis Island; there is a quick ferry connection between the two islands.



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