Lady Liberty keeps welcoming tired, poor
The French wanted to give the United States a gift for the centennial in 1876 of our Declaration of Independence. So they got together enough money to hire the sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi to design the Statue of Liberty – he used his mother as a model - and Alexandre Gustave Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame to design the superstructure and the skeletal framework allowing the statue’s copper skin to move independently but still stand upright.
It was America’s job to come up with the money for the pedestal. As our countrymen were not really enthusiastic about the gift, money came in slowly. In 1883, Joseph Pulitzer started a campaign in his newspaper, The World, to raise the money that in some cases was donated in pennies and nickels.
What is now seen around the world as a symbol of the United States was finished in 1886 and unveiled by President Grover Cleveland who, when he was governor of New York, had vetoed a bill contributing $50,000 for the pedestal. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan appointed Lee Iacocca to oversee a $62 million renovation for Lady Liberty’s second centennial celebration. That meant the statue was obscured from view by scaffolding until it was reopened on July 5, 1986.
Our first view on our recent trip came when Carla and I took the ferry from the Battery to Staten Island. This let us see the statue more as the immigrants would have seen it as their ship came into New York harbor. As our guide book said, “With a torch in her hand and broken shackles at her feet, the Statue of Liberty has been welcoming ‘huddled masses’ to New York for over a century.” Its location is such that it was a U.S. lighthouse from its opening until 1902 and the first lighthouse to use electric lights that could be seen 24 miles out at sea.
We made our formal visit to the Statue of Liberty on a Saturday, which might be the wrong day if you want to avoid crowds. It took us an hour to board at the South Ferry station. The incline into the ferry can be quite steep, and special attention was given to boarding the people on crutches and in wheelchairs. We also underwent searches, instituted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, similar to airport searches.
So many people take this tour that only a few can get tickets to enter the exhibitions in the hall at the base of the statue. We did the next best thing and took the audio tour that gave us information at eight points around the base about the statue’s history and construction.
Our first audio stop was at a display of five small statues, where we learned about Bartholdi, Eiffel, Pulitzer and Emma Lazarus, who wrote the poem engraved on the base: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
We were surprised at how few people were taking the audio tour. I chatted with one of the other passengers taking his young family on the tour. He knew his family had originally come from Germany but knew no specifics, and he didn’t seem interested in how or when they had entered the country. This seems to be a common reaction that changes somewhere in the vicinity of 60 years of age, when genealogy becomes of interest and the main relatives who knew the facts have died.
On the Staten Island ferry, the round trip voyage is free. Our group leader told us it was a reward to the islanders from Rudy Giuliani because so many of them had voted for him, ensuring his election as mayor of New York City. On the trip we passed Ellis Island and the fort on the Battery built to defend the city against the British. None of the seven forts built around New York ever fired a shot. We found the Staten Island trip worthwhile because we got to see the lower Manhattan skyline, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Brooklyn skyline and the Jersey City skyline, all three sprouting skyscrapers.
By WAYNE ANDERSON