Few symbols stand up as high in American minds as does the Statue of Liberty, watching over the gates of New York harbor, and historically lighting a welcoming path to immigrants seeking a better life in a free society.
That's the heartstring-tugging version anyway. Of course the reality of the new millenium is shockingly different. Today's America doesn't like immigrants and today's government is a government of corporations and the wealthy power elite --- it doesn't like freedom, rights, or justice for all. Those kinds of things get branded as "liberal" ideas.
Such is the reality of 2005. Whether you cow-tow to the conservative Bush-led attack on American freedoms, or whether you still believe in such "liberal" ideas as freedom, justice, and the U.S. Constitution, well, I suppose that's up to you. I doubt there's anyone though who could honestly say that the America of today is a more tolerant, free, and idealistic society than it was in 1886 --- when the Statue first shone its guiding light to the doorway to a better life. That's a shame.
It's also a shame that Americans can't fully experience the Statue of Liberty any more.
I've been to the statue several times in my life, and last week was the first time I've been here in the new millenium. The experience is dramatically different, and not one of the changes that I see is a change for the better. Bureacracy reigns its head, requiring advance reservations to enter the pedestal or the museums. The statue itself is totally closed to the public. Getting to the statue has become more difficult, more time consuming, and more hassle. Many visitors will be unable to do anything more than walk the sidewalk that rings the statue and shop in the temporary tents of the gift shop. I'm happy that so many of my esteemed fellow Epinionators still manage to focus only on the liberal ideals that the statue symbolizes, but in my very humble opinion, it's becoming almost more hassle than its worth, especially if you were one of the unlucky masses who didn't book far enough ahead to get the pedestal tour, which even still, is a poor substitute for actually being able to go into the statue (though the National Park Service likes to downplay the cut-backs in access.) I'm sorry if my review isn't as heart-warming and touchy-feely as some of the others. I don't pull punches in my reviews. I tell it like it is, not like we wish it was, and I will tell you, 100% honestly, about the cons of visiting the place --- and there are cons.
The Statue of Liberty is still a powerful symbol of the kind of tolerance and freedom that was once an American value, and I highly recommend that any visitor to the area see the place, visit the site, and experience it for themselves. Who knows...maybe the torch of liberty can thaw even the heart of a conservative.
The Statue of Liberty was given to the United States in 1886 in recognition of America's burgeoning tastes for French food, especially fries and toast. It was designed by a guy named Frederic Bartholdi and is constructed of copper laid on an independent infrastructure built by Gustave Eiffel. The statue was shipped to New York in 350 different pieces, which were assembled over a 4-month period before a crowd of thousands. It would have taken 2 weeks, but one of the pieces was missing and customer support calls were being handled by Microsoft.
The statue was finally dedicated on October 28, 1886. Since then, October 28 has become a famous date celebrated by Microsoft techs worldwide because it is Bill Gates' birthday.
The statue itself measures 305 feet high, from foot to torch tip, and it sits on a pedestal 154 feet high. Lady Liberty's nose is 4-1/2 feet long....just a few inches shorter than Yasser Arafat's.
Step off the ferry at Liberty Island, and you'll find that there's not really all that much to see and do. Of course the views of Manhattan are spectacular, and of course you'll snap dozens of pictures of the statue itself.
If you were one of the lucky folks who booked ahead and got timed entry tickets, you can go inside the pedestal to see the museum, stroll out on the base observation deck, and/or (depending on which kind of ticket you have----these bureaucrats make it as complicated as humanly possible) a look up Lady Liberty's skirts to see the inside infrastructure that Eiffel engineered.
The Park Service tells people the statue is open to the public, but it isn't. Just the pedestal and museum. So don't get your hopes up, kids.
If you didn't get the timed-entry tickets, all you're going to be able to do is stroll the grounds and visit the gift shop and cafeteria (which is better than the one on Ellis Island, by the way, so if you're hungry, snack now).
Timed-entry tickets get you into the pedestal and let you onto the observation deck. The museum is inside the pedestal, so ergo, only a limited segment of "the public" will be able to see it (if you're in the elite, just remember, it's not nice to sniff at everyone else, nor to let them hear you refer to them as "scum sucking, low life, proletariat, no timed-entry ticket holders").
Just in case you're one of the teeming masses who didn't heed my advice to reserve timed-entry tickets, here's what you would have seen...
The museum itself is fairly small, but it has some interesting displays showing how the statue was constructed, with plenty of period black and white photos to back up the prose. Some of it is a bit dry and academic --- I, for one, don't care a whole lot about how the funds were raised or by whom from whom, etc. --- to me, that kind of stuff reads like the society page, which everyone I know throws away. Well, except for the folks who read the New York Post. I'm not sure the Post even has a society page. If they do, it probably could be mistaken for tonight's WWF lineup.
But I digress. The museum. Oh yeah. Aside from the displays, there are lots of interesting artifacts and bits and pieces of the statue that, more often than not, were replaced during the renovations that took place back in the 1980s.
Of course, the most popular part of the museum is the torch exhibit. Y'all might not realize it, but the torch you see Lady Liberty holding today isn't the original one. The 1886 original is sitting in the museum inside the pedestal, and (if you're one of the bourgeois elite with a "timed entry ticket") which you can see when you do your "inside the statue" tour. There's lots of discussion too about how the flame has been depicted.
On the pedestal tour, you can also see the aged bronze plaque with the famous plea to "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning for freedom..." The plaque is becoming hard to read as decades of wear show their ravages. In places, the letters are as blurry as many a modern American's grasp of their meaning.
Getting to the Statue is a friggin' pain in the tookus.
While you can still line up to buy same-day tickets at the Clinton Castle in Battery Park, I can pretty much guarantee you that you'll be hosed as far as getting into the pedestal museum if you do it that way.
Buy tickets ahead of time! If you're coming from out of town and this is a special occasion visit that's going to be a highlight for you, please, book your ferry tickets and your timed-entry ticket to the pedestal several days in advance. Yes it's a headache. Yes, the Park Service should open the pedestal to everyone who visits the island. Yes, the process should be made more simple. What should be doesn't change what is.
The Circle Line, which operates the ferries, tells you that if you have a timed entry ticket, you should plan to arrive at the piers in Battery Park about 2 hours before your scheduled entry time. That's probably good advice too.
Can you friggin' believe it though?? Two hours just to catch a boat ride a few hundred yards across the water. That's worse than the rigamorole for an international flight!
I'd tell you that 2-hours was bunk, but it might not be. Even though our group did have pre-purchased tickets, bypassing the ticket line at Castle Clinton, it did indeed take us at least a good hour from into the queue to boarding the boat. But alot of that was just to get through all the security hoopla of lining up in security queues, frisking, metal detecting, searching backpacks, disrobing the baby to check his diaper for explosives and weapons, etc. (I'll admit, it did smell pretty dangerous!)
So now I'm wondering....if security is so damn tight just to get on the ferry, then why does the whole statue have to be off limits?? Call me old-fashioned, but I'd sure like to be able to take my kids up into the statue to appreciate it up close and personally, and to let them experience it the way it was meant to be experienced --- with a vista from the crown. You haven't been able to do that in the past 4 years, and it's a shame. I'm not convinced that it's even necessary...not when everyone is searched to begin with. The gung-ho security arguments sound as hollow as the statue itself.
The timed entry tickets to the pedestal are allegedly free. But only if you get them at Castle Clinton. In reality, most of 'em are snapped up by folks like me who get 'em online at: www.statuereservations.com
The web site charges a $1.75 "convenience" fee for taking away the convenience of being able to just walk into the statue museum like you've done for decades...
Ferries run from 8:45 to 3:30pm. After that, there are a few ferries that will bring folks back from the statue, but they don't take anyone over to the island. Extra boats are run during peak tourist periods and during Thanksgiving and Christmas weeks. See the schedules on: www.statuereservations.com
Ferry-only tickets cost $11.50 per adult, $4.50 per kid. The ferry includes stops at both the Statue of Liberty and at Ellis Island --- it's a package deal, you can't do one without the other (unless you just don't get off the boat at one stop, but nobody does that).
The logistics aren't easy these days, and crowds and delays are common. Here are a few tips that might help you out:
* The first boat of the day (8:45) is better
* Always book ahead if you want to be able to get into the pedestal tour and museum
* If you're confused about the choices in timed-entry passes, get the "OBSERVATORY TOUR"
* Boats also run from Liberty State Park on the New Jersey side....the boats are smaller, but are never crowded
* Don't bring large bags or anything that would get confiscated at an airport
* Plan on making a full day of it, allowing time at both the statue and Ellis Island
The Statue of Liberty is an icon. Everyone wants to see it, everyone should see it. It's a thing of great beauty, and it's an inspiration.
Seeing the Statue is no longer a painless and carefree experience though. It's become a bureaucratic hassle, full of advance reservations, security screenings, delays, and closed-off public facilities.
I do recommend that everyone visit the statue. It's just a shame it's not more open, but then again, perhaps its part of a conservative conspiracy to make people think that liberty no longer has real meaning. Some Americans remember that it does.
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