We’d been fore warned that it gets extremely busy down at the Statue of Liberty, so an early start was in order for our first full day. We were hoping to catch the first ferry across from south ferry, Quite a hike from 53rd street first thing on a Sunday morning. We were nicely settled at the back of a subway train when I noticed a sign on the carriage stating that `You must be in one of the first five cars if you want to get off at South Ferry station’. Thank you. Bugger. I took a photo of the sign, then for the next few stations we carriage hopped our way down every time the train stopped until we were in the second from front, just in case! A few stops later some fellow Brits came dashing into the car doing exactly the same thing. You can’t take us anywhere!
We had time to have a look around Battery Park and took great interest in all the memorials there. The old circular fortress called `Castle Clinton` was built in 1811 to defend against British attacks. Thankfully it’s a lot friendlier these days and it’s from here you buy your tickets for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island ferry rides. Its also from here you get your first sighting of Lady Liberty. Quite small from where we were standing of course, and even smaller through the lens of a camera!
She was a gift from the French to the American people with one stipulation. The Americans had to provide the base and the pedestal. It took the Americans a long time to raise all the money to pay for these, but once it was all sorted the grand unveiling took place on October 28 1886 with President Grover Cleveland doing the honours. She stands 111 feet 6 inches from toe to crown and looks fantastic again now after being extensively restored in 1986 for her centenary (at a cost of $69.8 million!).
It was quite fitting that the ferry we got out to her was called `Miss Liberty`! The hot counter on the ferry looked very inviting, and it was here that I sampled my first NYC hotdog. (Never too early in the day I suppose). Very tasty! I couldn’t take my eyes off the statue as we sailed closer. Wow. After all this time, there she is. And here I am!
There was quite a drama when the ferry docked. We were making our way down the ramp (while staring over at the statue), when Malc lost his footing, slipped over, rolled/slipped under the safety ropes, and fell headfirst into the water. Two of the ferry staff jumped in after him and another one threw some lifebelts in after them. They were in the water twenty minutes before pulling Malc to safety, complete with a fish flapping around in his pocket.
Only joking. We were off the ferry the second it docked and spent a bit of time walking round the base reading (and snapping) the plaques and taking in the fantastic views of the Manhattan skyline. Camera (as always) at the ready! It’s a bugger trying to get the right angle so the statue looks like it’s coming out the top of your head.
It’s on the base of the statue that the famous poem by Emma Lazarus reads “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door”. Great stuff. The poem was actually written to help raise funds for the pedestal construction.
There was quite a queue starting to form outside the main lobby of the statue by now. It was then I found out you could actually walk up inside all the way to the crown. What a massive bonus. I didn’t realise you could do that!
It took us two and a half hours to wind our way up the twenty two storey high (354 steps) spiral stairs to the crown. You only get to spend a couple of minutes in the crown (which is fair enough really), but I was like a kid in a sweet shop. They very nearly had to prise my fingers off the railing to get me back down the staircase.
We were told later that two and a half hours from queuing to getting back down wasn’t bad at all. If we’d come during peak tourist season it could have taken us 7-8 hours.
The original torch from the statue is on display in the main lobby, replaced during the restoration in 1986 because of corrosion. It’s all lit up in a cage-like surround. I suppose they don’t want anyone walking off with it as the ultimate souvenir. We had a bite to eat in the café (burger and chips), before one last walk around the base and another look at the Manhattan skyline just across the water. Then it was off to Ellis Island.
It was fascinating to walk through the very doors that millions of immigrants had walked and to see actual baggage from those very days. Some of it reminded me of my own tatty suitcases. Mental note to myself; must get some new ones. I tried to picture the scene that between 1892 and 1954 nearly 17 million immigrants landed and were `processed` here, in the registry room. A room measuring 200 feet long, 100 feet wide and 56 feet high. Not all immigrants had to pass through this great hall though. First and second class passengers actually got `processed` while still on their boats. One third of all the millions of immigrants who arrived here ventured no father than New York City.
Once Ellis Island was no longer needed as a mass processing station, it became a detention and deportation centre for `undesirable aliens`. Talk about the worm turning! The Island also acted as a hospital for wounded servicemen during both world wars. The Island facility closed in 1954 and lay in ruins for thirty years until restoration began in 1984. Six years later (and at a cost of around $160 million), the Ellis Island Museum of Immigration opened in 1990. The interior was restored using any surviving original fixtures.
As well as retaining actual baggage once belonging to the arriving immigrants, there are also over two thousand other artefacts on display, as well as galleries filled with photos and posters. An audio tour is available where you can hear the voices of immigrants telling their stories. To put it bluntly, Ellis Island is a right little treasure trove as well as being a very important historic site. Well worth a visit in my humble opinion. We hit lucky on our visit, it was relatively quiet. Loads of room to go snooping around, poking our noses in everywhere.
When we went to leave it was the ferry Miss Liberty (again) that was waiting to take us back into Manhattan. I got my eye on the hot counter again and couldn’t resist sampling my first NYC Pretzel. Like the hot dog, very tasty.
Once back on dry land we had a stroll around Battery Park, watching various performers at work. It must be a long day for the people that paint themselves green, dress up as the Statue of Liberty, and stand for hours on end, erm, pretending to be a statue.
Far better to be in one of the bands belting out Caribbean numbers and jumping around enjoying themselves.
Or one of the guys on the stalls selling deliciously smelling hot roasted nuts and snacks. Maybe they all know each other and take it in turns to do each job. Short straw: Statue.
“Aww c’mon, I was the Statue yesterday.”
“Ok, just do it again today and you can be on the roasted nuts tomorrow.”