As Statue of Liberty prepares for reopening, Daily News gets sneak peek
The twin sets of steps entwine into a double helix, and to climb toward Lady Liberty’s crown is to feel you are ascending a huge strand of freedom’s DNA.
Much like freedom is achieved, the climb is arduous and requires individual effort and attention even when you are part of a group, the group Wednesday being media types offered a preview of the July 4 reopening.
Up, up, up you go, as visitors did for decades before 9/11, as no member of the public has for eight long years.
No fire inspector would ever approve a setup where the sole entrance and egress is by one up stairway and one down, the steps just 19 inches across and only 6 inches deep at the central pole around which they twist.
The structure itself is so delicate that the copper skin is the thickness of only two pennies and pierced in places so you can see pinholes of sunlight.
But the ascent to the inside of the crown was deemed safe enough for visitors before 9/11. Closing it since then felt too much like giving in to the terror the terrorists sought to instill.
Some who are more rotund than robust may find reason to grumble about the reopening as they pass step 100.
One good way to keep going is to think of the firefighters who climbed the stricken twin towers burdened with gear.
Then, at step 140, you are bathed in sunlight.
Another half- dozen steps and you finally arrive at a 10-by-5-foot steel platform corrugated like a shop’s sidewalk cellar board.
On this supremely democratic footing, you stand before the 25 small windows set in the crown. The biggest is at the center, and to peer through it is to gaze along Lady Liberty’s line of sight.
“I hate to bust your bubble, the statue isn’t facing Manhattan,” U.S. Park Ranger Kenya Finley said Wednesday. “It’s facing France, but you see Brooklyn first.”
The Manhattan skyline is visible through the windows to the left.
“The big difference is the twin towers aren’t there anymore,” Finley observed.
Finley began work here on Sept. 11, 2000. Her first visit to the crown was a call for assistance.
“Unfortunately, I had to help somebody who decided they were scared of heights,” she said.
Exactly a year later, she watched from Liberty Island as the planes flew into the World Trade Center. The island was evacuated, and even the pedestal remained closed for three years, as if the whole nation had become afraid of heights.
The crown will finally be reopened on July 4. The heart will sink on seeing the absence in the skyline.
“You still get to see the harbor,” Finley noted. “You still get to see the ships going by.”
And the heart soars as you gaze out at the harbor and ships, feeling like you are meeting the hopeful gaze of the millions of immigrants who peered up at the figure with the upraised torch. You are quite literally in Lady Liberty’s head, and you can raise your own hand to touch ripples in the copper overhead.
“That is the ripple of her hair,” Finley confirmed.
The skin had been warmed by the sun, copper making great cooking pans as well as statues. Let’s hope for a cool July 4, because the interior can be 20 degrees hotter than the outdoors, and the rule is to close the statue if the temperature outside tops 90.
High winds can sway the crown as much as 5 inches, and this can combine with the heat and the climb to make for a daunting visit.
That is only appropriate. Liberty has always required a struggle. A reminder came at midmorning as Fleet Week brought the the guided missile cruiser Vella Gulf into the harbor.
The ship recently captured two bands of Somali pirates. She now powered past Lady Liberty, and the crown whose jewels will again be windows filled with faces of every kind, which together are the face of freedom.