Statue of Liberty - GillisPhotos.comBy Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter and Boston City Paper May, 2008

It’s a perfect, 60 degree Saturday, and Sue and I, along with her cousin Angela headed to the Apple for a New York adventure.

Our first stop was the Staten Island Ferry at Battery Park. Neither of the girls has ever been to the Statue of Liberty, and today we arrived early and took it all in — the guys dressed up as the Statue of Liberty (complete with green makeup) posing for pictures with tourists. The street vendors and performers. The smell of hot dogs and sausages tempting everyone. The general excitement in the air. It was like a carnival.

The line for the ferry is a lot longer now because of security, but we’re lucky to be able to go at all — After September 11, the statue didn’t reopen until 2004. We went through the tent structure that resembled airport security, and then got on board.

The crowd on the ferry was all in good spirits and as we approached the Statue of Liberty, the cameras started flashing and so many people just stared and you could hear the “oohs” and “ahs.” Lady Liberty is iconic, and everyone has seen images, but to actually see her “in person,” — well, it gives you Goosebumps. It IS America. It is THE symbol of our nation, as much as the American flag.

The immaculately manicured park on Liberty Island has a restaurant, souvenir ship and many perfect spots to view the statue.

There’s also a view of Manhattan and a sign indicating where the World Trade Center used to be. It’s not a memorial, but feels like one. Six years later, the skyline still looks wrong, incomplete.

To enter the Statue of Liberty you have to not only go through a second metal detector but a sort of air-tunnel that scans you for bombs and other chemicals. Entering the statue’s base, the first thing you see is a big torch — and I realized that this is the ORIGINAL torch, removed in 1986 as part of the refurbishing and renovating of the statue. It is still lit, and quite lovely.

Our ranger, Bill, filled us in on many of the amazing details about Lady Liberty. For example, its shell is only as thick as two quarters pressed together! The green color was caused by the copper oxidation process. There was confusion about what the Statue of Liberty was intended to be: A lighthouse, perhaps? The Statue of Liberty was America’s first skyscraper. The crown spikes represent the seven continents or the seven oceans. The torch represents the light of freedom. The statue’s full name is “Liberty Enlightening the World.” The chains on her feet are the broken shackles of oppression and tyranny.

Sue took this poignant moment to wonder out loud, “wouldn’t it be great if the Statue of Liberty came to life?” and I commented that she’s obviously never seen, “Ghostbusters II.”

Interestingly, sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi required the assistance of an engineer to address structural issues associated with designing such a colossal copper sculpture, and Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, the designer of the Eiffel Tower, was commissioned to design the massive iron pylon and secondary skeletal framework.

And on a slightly bizarre note, the face of the statue is apparently modeled after Bartholdi’s mother — the sculptor had lived with his mother all of his life. Our guide made a humorous comment: “This is what happens when you live with your mother your entire life.”

We headed toward the elevators and stairs. Now, due to fire security restrictions you can only go up as high as the base — the days of going to the crown are long gone — so we headed to that observation deck. There are nearly 160 stairs and I decided I would climb them. Sue thought I was crazy (that’s a first!) but I forwent the elevator and climbed. How many people can say they climbed the stairs of the Statue of Liberty? I can!

To be honest, the observation desk at Liberty’s feet is not the most perfect view of the statue but still damned impressive. Angela was particularly thrilled; she told us that the statue is famous worldwide, of course, but whenever a European visits America one of the first destinations is the Statue of Liberty, and she was delighted to experience it up-close.

And it was then I realized it was time to put the camera down and just be in the moment.

The structure may be a copper statue but it is so much more than that. For perhaps 20 minutes, I just stood looking at this majestic icon, this universally recognized symbol of democracy, freedom, America, and hope. I thought of the countless immigrants who saw this statue as they arrived at Ellis Island and what seeing it represented. New life. A fresh start. Freedom.

It’s amazing to stand there.

It was honestly humbling.

We saw a lot more of New York that day, but those are stories for another time. For me, the highlight was seeing the Statue of Liberty — a beautiful symbol with so much history, so much importance, and for so many millions, a symbol of hope. And on that day, I honestly felt that hope. Standing in the shadow of that grand lady, you can’t help but believe, and feel that swelling pride of being free, and seeing one of America’s purest symbols of all that we are and aspire to be.

Poetic and sentimental, to be sure, but very real. May Lady Liberty continue to shine her light on us and remind us of that spirit of hope for centuries to come.

16 Statue of Liberty - GillisPhotos.com

 

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