New York City

 

Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

 

Among New York City’s countless attractions it is without doubt the most popular and probably also the most significant. The Statue of Liberty, often called Lady Liberty, is not only the hallmark of New York City, but its picture is also globally recognized as a symbol of freedom.

For millions of immigrants the statue in New York harbor, which was unveiled in October 1886,  was the first thing they saw of their new homeland and thus, the sculpture created by French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, standing 93 metres tall, also came to be an ensign of the hope for a better life.

Constructing the Statue of Liberty, whose official full name is “Liberty Enlightening the World”, was a task shared by France and the US. While the Europeans built the statue itself and shipped it to New York, disassembled into many parts and packaged into a number of crates, the Americans were responsible for the construction of the pedestal, which stands some 27 metres tall. Bartholdi himself had developed the idea for the monument and he had traveled across America for many weeks to find support for his project. He also was the one who suggested the location for the statue, which was called Bedloe’s Island back then. The Roman goddess Libertas, which was already well known as a symbol in America, served as a model for the statue. It is difficult to see from the ground, but the statue now strides over a piece of broken iron chain. In her left hand, the Lady holds a panel, standing for law and justice and in her right hand she holds the famous torch which Bartholdi had completed by 1876 already and had put it on display at the US Centennial in Philadelphia. Two years later, the statue’s head was shown at the World Exhibition in Paris. For the elaborate interior structure that had to be able to withstand the forces of wind and weather at the harbor, Bartholdi enlisted Gustave Eiffel to support him. Eiffel also constructed the staircases in the inside, on which visitors can clim all the way up to the crown on her head and into the torch in Lady Liberty’s hand. 

NYC Statue of Liberty

The elaborate structure was completed in July 1884 and was then assigned to the American  Ambassador in Paris, but it took many months until - against a lot of resistance - the sum necessary to build the pedestal was collected in the US. The pedestal was completed in April 1886, the installation of the statue, which had temporarily been in storage on the island, began soon thereafter. In a grand opening ceremony on 28th October 1886, President Grover Cleveland handed the monument over to the city.

In the course of the years, Liberty Island was often the setting for special events, was occupied by political activists several times, but mostly it was maintained and renovated again and again. Statue of Liberty became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Lady Liberty was closed for the public and it was thought that it would remain closed indefinitely due to the fact that there were no appropriate security measures in case of a panic. This ban was lifted in 2011, but the number of visitors allowed onto the island daily now is strictly limited. Every day, 240 visitors are allowed inside the statue but it takes a separate ticket for which reservations have to be made. 

These visitors, but also those who just want to go to Liberty Island without going inside, are subject to strict security measures similar to those at the airport. The ferries of Statue Cruises, which are the only ones allowed to land on the island, depart from Battery Park in Manhattan and from Liberty State Park in New Jersey. The rates currently are (December 2013) $17 for a return ticket, access to the island itself is free. Ferries depart in a 20 minutes rythm daily between 8:30 am and 4:30 pm and also land at the neighboring Ellis Island.

 

Ellis Island used to be home to the Immigration Office, in which millions of arriving immigrants between 1892 and 1954 had to pass an examination. In 1907 alone more than a million people arrived here and up until today  about one third of the American population can trace their family history back to this island. Almost all immigrants arriving here were allowed to continue their journey into the country upon registration, only some 2% of applicants were refused and had to travel back to where they came from, because they carried diseases or because the officers did not believe in their ability to take care of themselves in America. Although this percentage is comparatively low, Ellis Island was nicknamed “Island of Tears” by some. After 1924, Ellis Island was primarily used as a prison island and later as a deportation camp for Germans, Italians or Japanese, who were suspected to be spies.

Today, the main building of Ellis Island is home to a very recommendable museum exhibiting and documenting the history of immigration to the USA in general and the role of Ellis Island dokumentiert. Access to the island and visit8ing the museum is possible by using the ferry to Liberty Island, ferry tickets also include entry to the museum.

The former Immigrant Hospital, where immigrants were brought who were suspected to carry contagious diseases is not open to the public. This hospital was the workplace for medicinal inspectors who watched the immigrants when they climbed a flight of stairs to the main building and when they suspected a disease, they marked these individuals’ clothes with chalk.


 

 

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