By Conor Greene
For the first time since the 9/11 attacks, visitors to Liberty Island were allowed to make the 354-step climb to Lady Liberty’s crown this past Fourth of July.
While Liberty Island was reopened three months after the terrorist attacks, the statue itself remained closed to the public until 2004, when portions, including the statue’s pedestal and observation deck, were reopened. However, the crown remained closed, despite objections by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) and other officials.
Last summer, the National Parks Service finally issued a request for quotes on a security plan that would allow the crown to reopen. That document outlined a one-year timeline to prepare a report on how to provide safe, secure access to the crown – exactly what Weiner said he had requested NPS to prepare four years prior.
“July 4th represents a glorious day for Lady Liberty and her many visitors. She becomes the last national monument that was closed on 9/11 to reopen,” said Rep. Weiner. “A true symbol of American values again stands tall…An era of foot-dragging and excusemaking comes to an end.”
The crown’s reopening marks both a symbolic victory in the nation’s recovery from 9/11, and a “victory over the bureaucratic naysayers that have kept the crown closed for eight years,” said Weiner. “They said it shouldn’t be done and they said it couldn’t be done. For years, the American people and I have disagreed,” he said. “I am thrilled that this odd chapter in the history of the Statue of Liberty is closed. But it is hard not to ask: ‘What took them so long?’”
On Independence Day this past Saturday, events marking the crown’s reopening kicked off at about 8 a.m. on Liberty Island with a ceremony for seven military personnel who are among the nation’s newest citizens. “The idea of freedom is why I moved to this country, and this moment means more than I can even describe with words,” 26-year-old Sameh Zaki, aa native of Egypt, told the Daily News.
About an hour later, the first of the 240 lucky individuals who scored tickets to visit the crown on Saturday gathered at the base of the statue. Following a ribbon-cutting ceremony by officials including United States Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, New York Governor David Paterson, New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine and Rep. Weiner, the first group of 30 began the long climb to the crown, which rises about 265 feet high.
“We are going to open up the crown to the people of America and to the people of the world,” said Salazar. In a statement released this week, Weiner recalled a vow made by Interior Secretary Gale Norton from the observation deck of the Hoover Dam on December 12, 2001. “Even though atrocities such as those of September 11 can affect us, they cannot close us down.”
The effort to having the crown reopened to the public picked up steam last August, when the National Parks Service awarded a contract to a Baltimore firm to conduct a emergency management study for the Statue of Liberty. This past January, newlynamed Interior Secretary Salazar toured the site with Weiner before announcing in May that the crown would reopen for this past Fourth of July.
First in line on Saturday morning was Barbara McLean, 56, of Atlanta. “Being able to look out from the crown is what this country is all about,” she told the Daily News.
And, while the statue is a symbol of the nation’s liberty, one could say that 26-year-old Aaron Weisinger of California said goodbye to his freedom after proposing to girlfriend Erica Bender inside the cramped crown. “I was beyond surprised,” Bender told the New York Times. “It’s the perfect place for both of us,” she added of the location, as both had relatives who immigrated to America through New York City.
Tickets to take the ferry to Liberty Island and tour the statue cost $15 for adults, $13 for seniors and $5 for children and are only available at statuecruises.com. Tickets for the next 12 months are currently on sale, but tours are sold out through mid-October. While those who cannot wait unit then should avoid purchasing a ticket on secondary markets such as E-bay or Craigslist (each ticket has a specific name printed on it), some spots could open up due to cancellations. Check the Website or call (877) 523-9849.