New York: the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

Full disclosure: I totally thought the Statue of Liberty was huge. When you see pictures of it, with the Manhattan skyline in the distance, it looks gigantic.

From The Business Insider

Shoutout to Business Insider for the photo.

I also couldn’t remember what Ellis Island was. I knew I’d learned about it at one point, but out of sight, out of mind. I figured it was New York’s version of Alcatraz or something.

(My parents are super proud of my learnin’.)

Then Caitlin and I went to the top of the Rockefeller Center, and she pointed out the Statue. And it looked tiny.

Statue of Liberty from Top of the Rock

Can you see it?

Caitlin made the arrangements and prepaid for us to go on the 10am ferry. She did it online a couple of months before my visit so we could reserve pedestal access. $18 to take the ferry; $3 if you wanted to go into the crown (sold out months in advance); and no extra charge, though you had to reserve it, to go into the pedestal.

Before boarding, we had to go through security that bested any airport; my KIA bracelet, which never sets off alarms, set this one off. We walked to the dock, and the Statue of Liberty looked cold against the gray sky and steel water.

The ride out was short – maybe five minutes. Up close, the statue still looks pretty small. The base she stands on, though, is imposing and heavy, like a fortress.

There she is!

There she is!

It was cold, and the wind made it worse, but we were there, and we tried to act like excited tourists.

Ferry

Here’s our ferry docked at Liberty Island. The Statue is directly behind me.

You’re allowed to walk around the island at your leisure, and we headed clockwise around the Statue.

Check out the size of the people on the first level of the pedestal. I mean, it was hard to wrap your mind around.

Check out the size of the people on the different levels of the pedestal.

If the dock was at 6 o’clock, the entrance to the pedestal was at 12. The wait to enter was a half an hour or so. Since I had my backpack, I ventured into the tented area at the beginning of the line to put my stuff into a locker. I walked up to a machine, selected a locker, put in two $1 bills, then scanned my thumbprint in order to open the locker door. Awesome – there’s no way anyone else could possibly open my locker. Weird – hey, Big Brother.

Once again, after going through the line but before entering the base, we went through security. Hats, gloves, shoes, scarves, coats, jackets, jewelry, purses off. I remembered to take off my bracelet this time.

You can see the line, which was generally about 30-people deep outside of the tent. The first quarter of the tent is for lockers. The next two are a line zigzagging around, and the final quarter is a second security screening. Then out of the back, you're free to explore.

You can see the line, which was generally about 30-people deep outside of the tent. The first two sections of the tent is for lockers. The next three are for a line zigzagging around, and the final three are a second security screening. Then out of the back, you’re free!

Finally, we were free to explore. We entered, and inside the first floor was a life-size replica of the flame.

I really should've pulled out my other camera instead of shooting just with my 50mm lens.

I really should’ve pulled out my other camera instead of shooting just with my 50mm lens.

After finding the stairs, we made our way up several switchbacks to the top of the starburst-shaped base.

We climbed with an older couple, and I declared that I was stopping to take a picture. The man grinned and said, "Yeah, right. You just want a breather!" We all did.

We climbed with an older couple, and I declared that I was stopping to take a picture. The man grinned and said, “Yeah, right. You just want a breather!” We all did.

We reached the first landing and, looking up, you could see the inner workings of the Statue.

Looking up while inside.

We joined the crowd outside and walked around taking pictures of the Manhattan skyline.

The Manhattan skyline.

One World Trade Center is the tallest building on the left. It stands within the same block as the original two towers.

Chilled by the wind, we went back inside and climbed another set of stairs to the top of the second pedestal. The views were lovely of the harbor and of the city, and we were that much closer to Lady Liberty herself.

Aging gracefully

Aging gracefully

With little more to do, we quickly made our way back down. Multiple ferries shuttled passengers from each of the three docks at a 15-minute interval, and we were ready to be on one going to Ellis Island.

The view of Ellis Island from the Statue of Liberty pedestal

The view of Ellis Island from the Statue of Liberty pedestal. Manhattan is on the right.

As Caitlin and I walked to the dock, I think we were both a bit surprised by how unexcited we were by the Statue of Liberty. It’s cool, but it wasn’t really that inspiring; mayble I’m spoiled because I have birthright citizenship. Maybe if I’d had to earn it, or if I knew more about my family’s struggle to arrive in the States, or if my family had initially landed in New York and seen the Statue of Liberty, it would mean more.

The second ride on the ferry, I stood on the open-air back deck to watch the scenery and enjoy the quiet. We docked at Ellis Island, and Caitlin and I were, again, a bit lost emotionally. Did we really care?

Pulling into Ellis Island

Pulling into Ellis Island

We entered the main hall and sat. Our feet and legs were hurting from miles of walking and extended periods of standing, and it felt good to relax. There were a few options of exhibits to see, but I, quite frankly, didn’t really have interest in any of them.

Caitlin wanted to go upstairs to the main hall. We took the stairs and found ourselves in a bright, open room.

The receiving hall at Ellis Island

The receiving hall at Ellis Island

This was where thousands of people were examined in mere seconds by hurried doctors to determine if they were medically acceptable to enter the United States.

I was struck by how full the picture showed the hall to be, and how empty it was at the moment I was there.

I was struck by how full of people the picture showed the hall to be, and how empty it was while I was there.

I read the signs, and I realized just how nerve-wracking the experience must’ve been. Finally, as I stood in that hall and imagined what people went through, the gravity of where we were hit me.

According to this sign, I don't think I would've been allowed to enter because of my club feet.

According to this sign, I don’t think I would’ve been allowed to enter because of my club feet.

Here, in this hall, was were I wanted to spend time, soaking it all in.

The more I think about it, the more I really appreciated visiting this room.

It was also really nice that most tourists stayed downstairs, so the room was fairly quiet.

We were keeping an eye on the time, as we needed to have enough time to get back to Manhattan, grab lunch, and then make our way to the 9/11 Memorial at 3:00pm. Not too much later, we wandered back outside and waited for the ferry that would take us back to New York City.

Parting note:

Parting note: this manifest, in the fifth column, asks for the person’s “Calling or Occupation”. Caitlin and I loved the wording.

2 comments

  1. I first went to the Statue in my senior year of high school (1964),and, like you, was not overwhelmed by any particular emotion. I did see a remarkable resemblance between the Statue’s face and that of then NY Yankee star, Roger Maris. Gave little attention to my visit to the Statue until a visit to Paris 27 years later. We were chaperones with a group of 15 students, all but two of which had at least one parent with them, so chaperoning was really a low key assignment. That afternoon, we all piled on a boat for a trip down the Seine. All was pleasant and quiet until our boat passed a replica of the Statue on the left bank. Suddenly several students excitedly spotted the statue. Before we knew it, the Americans were standing and singing ” God Bless America.” Almost immediately, French citizens stood to sing “Les Marseilles,” the French national anthem, all while watching that replica recede behind us. It was not competitive, but rather a spontaneous moment of gift givers and recipients coming together to remember a proud moment in their nation’s history. It took 27 years for me feel much, but when it hit me, Wow!

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