The Statue of Liberty, given to the United States by France as a gift for our Centennial (statue only – we had to raise funds for a pedestal to put it on), is such an icon that it is easy to become casual about it when you live in New York City. As we approach Independence Day, I will share what it was like recently to go all the way up to the crown of the Statue. Personally, I don’t think it is possible to be unimpressed when up close and personal with this magnificent symbol.
Before launching into a description of what it was like, let me first explain that going up to the crown is not the standard trip to Liberty Island. The basic concept is explained here on the National Parks Services site: tickets must be bought in advance on the Statue Cruises website, limit four tickets, must show ID when checking in that matches names given at time of booking, all bags must be put in a locker before going up, and must be able to handle 162 small and tight steps on a spiral staircase. I will add that this isn’t a last minute decision – looking at the reservation system now at the end of June, the first ticket available is for midweek end of September, and to get a weekend ticket you would need to wait until November.
Checking in at Battery Park was a fairly simple process, although there is airport-style security that adds some time. You are recommended to check in and get your tickets no later than 45 minutes before the time listed on your reservation, since you need to get the ticket, go through security, and get to Liberty Island via boat. If you have the crown access, you are given a special wristband.
Once on Liberty Island, it is easy to find your way to access to the pedestal (included with crown access, of course, and what most visitors have). Before entering the Statue, you need to put everything except your camera/phone in a locker (25 cents to rent, and there is a change machine there).
Once you have passed the pedestal, there are guards to check that you have the crown access wristband. The number of tickets is limited so that it shouldn’t be crowded, but my advice is that if you see a small group go in, wait a few minutes before starting the climb yourself so that you don’t end up feeling you are just looking at the people in front of you. The stairs are metal, worn with plenty of character, and a very tight spiral. Going up, I was so interested in getting to the crown that I didn’t spend too much time looking at the inside of the statue. I didn’t think it was that strenuous to get to the crown; my anticipation had been that it was going to be harder. In fact, I was less sore the next day than I had been when visiting the Vessel at Hudson Yards.
Once you are in the crown, it is immediately apparent why this is something worth doing! The crown area is quite small, and there are two park rangers (remember, the Statue of Liberty is a National Park) there to answer your questions. When I was up there, most of the time it was just my daughter and myself plus the two park rangers, but eventually a family with two small children came – and that was about the maximum comfortable capacity. The views are hard to comprehend – that is her arm raised to hold the torch, folds of fabric sculpted in copper; that is lower Manhattan including One World Trade; these windows are the curves of her crown and those are the points of it, etc. To think of what the view from this crown would have been a century or more ago and all the changes in these views over time, and yet the experience of looking out from inside her crown is the same as what people have experienced for over 100 years – it’s sobering and thrilling at the same time.
There is no air conditioning in the crown or inside the statue while climbing the steps. I went in the spring on a cool day, and even then it got a little hot and stuffy. The park rangers said the heat of the summer, intensified by sun baking the copper statue, can be even dangerous – people have passed out. I asked about views when the weather is bad, because that is one of the disadvantages of having to book your tickets so far out – what if it is raining, or foggy (I lucked out and it was a very clear day). The rangers, being there all throughout the year and in all kinds of weather, said there are interesting experiences to be had regardless. In the rain, the sound inside the statue is apparently not unlike being in a house with a tin roof. Heavy snow, they said, makes a soft pounding sound inside the statue. When the wind is high, you can feel the statue sway and hear the whistles and moans made by the air rushing in all the little holes and gaps in the statue. And while you might not be able to see over to lower Manhattan if it’s fogged in, they noted that there is a ghostly beauty involved in sitting inside a cloud inside the crown of the Statue of Liberty! Summer time is peak tourist time, as well as having the worst heating danger, so if you decide to do this and have flexibility, pick another time of the year.
Heading down, you can see the steps that lead up to the torch, inaccessible to anyone other than maintenance workers on occasion.
Going down, I took more time to really look at the inside of the statue, the folds of her robe, the rivets and metal supports that hold her together. There was a place where the steps were very close to the inside of the statue, and I reached out and touched the copper (only two pennies thick!) of the statue itself.
Going down, we did get out and go around the pedestal, which gives some great views of the statue.
When I went in the spring, it was just before the new museum on Liberty Island had opened, so there was only a smaller display about the history of the statue than is now available at the museum.
On the way back, the Statue Cruises vessel stops at Ellis Island.
The views of lower Manhattan when heading back are lovely (on the way there, you tend to focus on the statue!).
Since going, I have found myself getting philosophical about my time inside the statue, looking out. Like the United States, the Statue of Liberty appears to be unified and all of one piece from a distance but once closer, you can see that she is made of many pieces, joined together. There are gaps between some of the pieces, but these make her stronger – so that she can sway under the stress of heavy wind rather than break. The thinness of her skin and the piecing together of her structure actually make her tougher, not weaker. Similarly, I think about this country, made completely of immigrants other than the native descendants still here; one nation seen from a distance, yet made up of so many pieces. In these days when immigration is seen as a political issue of “us versus them” rather than as a fundamental part of what makes this country what it is, let’s hope we can find a way to sway in the turbulent political winds that are blowing, rather than toppling.