Picking up my complimentary audio tour, I went to the designated spot in the luggage room, punched in 1 on the device, and was greeted with a special announcement indulging my patience. Turns out in October 2012, Ellis Island and Liberty Island both took direct hits from Hurricane Sandy, wiping out their infrastructure. While the building itself suffered only marginal damage, the complete loss of critical climate control meant that many valuable artifacts had to be relocated to protect them until a proper environment could be restored. But in spite of this, it was still an amazing tour.
Everyone has seen images of hordes of people huddled inside the building but walking the very floors that millions of immigrants shuffled across over a hundred years ago fills you with tremendous emotions and gives you chills. It is truly awe inspiring to learn the bravery that these people had packing their few possessions into a suitcase, enduring weeks at sea, then once arriving, being herded like cattle through medical examinations and being asked multiple questions by people in uniforms, all when the immigrants didn’t even speak English or fully understand what would be required to enter the US (and also to many of them, people in uniforms meant danger), all in this very large hall, described by newcomers as great as an airplane hanger.
Multiple times I was on the verge of tears. The exhibits and the audio tour tell what for many was a harrowing experience, but one that makes me proud of my own ancestors who endured this grueling process to leave their homeland—the life they were familiar with—and embark on a journey of unknown outcome. With this new appreciation for what it took, I have to say thank you to my forebears.
Before I realized it, I had spent over two and a half hours wandering the vast building, a tour I hadn’t even originally planned but only took because it was a part of the ticket. I anxiously boarded the ferry again for what had been my original purpose and as we neared Liberty Island,
gleefully snapped this shot of me with Lady Liberty in the background.
By the time I disembarked, the weather had worsened. Here, the ravages of Hurricane Sandy were even more visible as temporary buildings and tents were in place. And within these tents, I had to endure yet another airport-like security screening before entering the base of the Statue.
Following the line through for pedestal and crown ticket holders, I then came to a long line awaiting the elevator but a short line to the stairs. Being an avid Fitbitter, I took the shorter line for the stairs. I don’t know how many steps I ascended (it was estimated to be a 5 minute climb) but at the top I was met with a small space and two doors to the outside balcony, through which I could see it was still raining.
It was my Eiffel Tower experience all over again where it had been raining so hard, we couldn’t even leave the hot and humid interior of the structure for a photo without getting drenched (ironic connection to this rainy Liberty experience, the interior support structure for the Lady was also built by Gustave Eiffel). I did manage to brave the rain long enough to get a photo of lower Manhattan with the Freedom Tower shrouded in clouds.
But lacking a crown ticket, this was as far as I could go and there was nothing left to do but go back down the stairs. It was another anticlimactic experience. When I reached the bottom, I just couldn’t believe that was it. After all these years of never visiting the Statue of Liberty, it just felt like a huge letdown. Before I went through the secure exit, I decided to go back inside the base to see if I had missed anything. Turns out I had. A lot.
I took another look at the torch that I had rushed past on my way to the queue line for the pedestal ticket holders. I learned that this was the actual torch that Bartholdi had originally installed in Lady Liberty’s outstretched arm in 1886. It had been modified in the early 1890s to include the glass panels so that it could be lit internally but it was impossible to keep rainwater from getting into the interior of the statue and so was replaced in 1986 with the current torch topped with a gilded flame. It made me feel that even though I couldn’t go to the crown and see the torch, I had a much better view of the torch than I could even get from the crown.
After this wonderful discovery, I ascended a set of stairs to the left of the ones I had entered to walk up the pedestal and found an entire museum I didn’t know existed within the base.
There was a full size replica of Liberty’s face, with a striking resemblance to Bartholdi’s mother…
…and Liberty’s left foot.
There was a display of one of the toes that showed the iron support bars attached inside the copper forms…
…and some of the actual iron bars from inside the statue that had been removed and replaced with steel bars during the 1980’s restoration.
There was also a display that showed what the Eiffel support structure looked like inside the statue…
…and photos of portions of the statue that were displayed in Philadelphia and New York when Bartholdi was trying to gain US acceptance of the statue and a commitment to fund the building of the pedestal.
The displays were intriguing to me and gave me tangible evidence of the things that I had read in the book. Suddenly I didn’t feel so let down. But before I left, I still wanted to see the statue as close up as I could get from the outdoor walkway.
Only problem was the driving wind and rain kept inverting my umbrella and kiting my iPhone making it impossible to get a photo. But I kept trying to take shot after shot until finally holding my umbrella at almost a 90 degree angle with the ground, I got a photo with the right amount of light that satisfied me.
I felt more complete and accomplished as the rain and wind pushed me back towards the dock where I would catch the return ferry to New Jersey.
As I settled into my warm seat on the ferry ride back, I discovered that I had spent over 5 hours at the two parks and by the time I had made it back to my car, it was almost 2 PM. I had completely blown my schedule and I still hadn’t even had any lunch. While walking back to the car in the rain, I had had but one thought—seeking comfort. Warming up and drying out in the car, that comfort soon crystallized with clarity—a brewpub. Since I no longer had time to drive to the train station, ride the train to New York, visit the MOMA and then get back to the airport in time to return the rental car and catch my ride back to the hotel, I just thought of cold beer and hot food in a warm and dry restaurant.
I pulled up Yelp and did a quick search. I found one close by but after parking and entering, realized it was a college-dive kind of place. I found another that led me down to the water’s front. Fortunately, I was able to find a parking spot and when I walked in, I knew this was the spot. Not only did I have a superb sandwich and great micro-brewed IPA, I had a tremendous view.
So even though I wasn’t technically “in” New York, I was enjoying a great view of New York. Out of the rain and in a warm environment enjoying a tasty beer. In spite of my less than fulfilled plans, it was a most enjoyable day. Maybe not the kind ole Frankie sang about all those years ago, but a great day all the same.