This Thanksgiving weekend, my family & I visited the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island. I’ve been to Ellis Island twice before as an adult, but my last visit to Liberty Island was when I was a small child in the 1970s. Every child should get the chance to visit the Statue of Liberty at least once, so I purchased tickets well ahead for the full experience.
The ferries are efficient at getting visitors to the island although the experience of slowly disembarking with the “huddled masses,” hearing dozens of languages spoken around you, and being barked at to keep moving along is perhaps an unintentional living history experience of our immigrant forebears. Once on Liberty Island, we were able to move more freely from the crowds. We had tickets to go all the way to the crown, but first we circled the island listening to the excellent audio tour which told us about the history of the island, the statue, and the many things the Statue of Liberty has come to represent. My favorite new thing I learned is that since women were prohibited from attending the dedication ceremonies in 1886, a group of women activists hired a boat to circle around the island and shout protests to disrupt the event.
It was an overcast day and rather blustery, but the warmest day of the weekend, so it was a good day to take in the views of the harbor. The wall of skyscrapers spanning the Hudson River is particularly spectacular from this angle, and made me realize how much it has changed since my childhood (especially Lower Manhattan and the spectacular growth of Jersey City). Finally we got out of the wind and headed inside to scale the Statue (having to fuss with some unfriendly lockers and crowds before entering).
The walk up the pedestal was not bad and then there was a nice view from the balcony, albeit exposed to stronger winds. Then we continued up the spiral staircase to the crown. This is something that was changed significantly during the renovations in the 1980s and a glimpse of the remnant of the old staircase actually brought back a memory of climbing them as a child. The stairs were long and steep but didn’t feel all too taxing to climb. The greater challenge was keeping my head down to avoid getting clocked.
And then suddenly we were at the top! The crown is much smaller than I imagined (or remembered), basically a small platform no bigger than a landing between the upstairs and the downstairs. We briefly took in the view, took a few pictures, and I banged my head a couple of times, and headed back down. After a visit to the museum at the base, we took a crowded ferry to Ellis Island.
We had lunch in the cafe which had tables and chairs modeled on those used at the immigration processing center, thus once again giving a living history experience. The audio guides lead us through the Great Hall and surrounding rooms following the experience of newly arrived immigrants processed through the buildings. Even my 7-year-old was able to maintain interest through the whole thing. There were several other exhibits we did not make it to that focused on the history of immigration before and after Ellis Island, as well as hard hat tours of buildings not yet renovated. But it had already been a long, and tiring day.
Before departing we visited the Wall of Honor, the only wall we should have for immigrants in this country. The kids were able to find the name of their great-great grandmother Bridget King Sullivan who arrived at Ellis Island from Ireland in 1908. We sailed back to Manhattan followed by a flock of seagulls, hopefully to return another day.