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The Statue of Liberty, Enlightening the World

Started: 2022-08-03 19:59:44

Submitted: 2022-08-03 22:53:00

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Seeing the Statue of Liberty, walking in my ancestors' footprints on Ellis Island, and visiting the World Trade Center memorial park

On Monday the 18th of July, our last full day in New York City, we went to see the Statue of Liberty.

Because of the lingering effects of the pandemic, the Park Service had closed and had not yet reopened the climb inside the statue to the crown. (In the Before Times, my guidebook tells me that the tickets were limited and often sold out months in advance.) The premium timed ticket that was available on Liberty Island was to climb to the top of the stone-clad pedestal, at the base of the statue itself. This seemed as if it would be interesting, and when I checked several days in advance the tickets were still available, but by the time I got around to figuring out how early we could get out of the apartment and down to Battery Park in the morning and getting our ferry ticket (the night before) the pedestal tickets were sold out (but the ferry tickets to the island were still widely available, so that's what we got).

During breakfast, I showed Calvin and Julian the immigration records I had found for my great grandparents, including the important detail that our ancestors had come from the right part of the world at the right time with the right skin color that they were able to show up on the doorstep of the United States and immigrate legally with very few questions asked (and, basically, US immigration policy is a dumpster fire of racism and has been for as long as there's been an "America" to immigrate to, though I didn't use those precise words). Calvin seemed especially interested in the story I told and the pictures I showed, and asked if I could send him the link (which I think is the highest form of interest he's able to express).

Bethany took the day off work to join us. We took an express train on the 4/5/6 line to Battery Park and found the entry gate to the ferry. (I got to add the ferry ticket to my Apple Wallet for easy access on my iPhone, which was a nice touch. I guess I could have asked for a printer, but this was actually easier.) One quick security check later we were back outside (under gray skies that threatened to rain at any moment but only succeeded in driving up the humidity while keeping the temperature down), waiting for the next ferry. Soon the ferry Miss Ellis Island arrived and we boarded for the quick cruise across the harbor.

Miss Ellis Island approaches Battery Park
Miss Ellis Island approaches Battery Park

We found seats on the top level, under the open air, and watched Manhattan recede behind us as we transited to Liberty Island. The ferry made sure to take the obvious route in front of the statue, giving everyone on the boat an opportunity for a picture.

Calvin photographs the Statue of Liberty
Calvin photographs the Statue of Liberty

We landed on the ferry dock on the far corner of the island and picked up audio tours to guide us around the island. The audio tour started at the flagpole in the center of the island, behind the statue, and led us on a walk all the way around the statue in a clockwise direction.

Calvin, Julian, and Aunt Bethany listen to the audio tour on Liberty Island
Calvin, Julian, and Aunt Bethany listen to the audio tour on Liberty Island

Julian enjoyed the audio tour (more than I expected); at every stop he dialed the number into the keypad and listened to the whole program before heading to the next stop. Most of the stops on the audio tour included a separate recording targeted for children; at most stops he listened to both the children's recording and the adult's recording, just to make sure he didn't miss anything.

Julian listens to the audio tour on Liberty Island
Julian listens to the audio tour on Liberty Island

On the north side of the island we could see lower Manhattan in the distance, shrouded in haze that reduced the buildings to nearly-monochromatic gray silhouettes. (None of the pictures I took of the skyline turned out particularly well.) One World Trade Center clearly dominated the skyline, its wall of windows reduced to a single slab of glass viewed from across the water.

Julian and Aunt Bethany look through binoculars at Manhattan
Julian and Aunt Bethany look through binoculars at Manhattan

The audio tour, and the accompanying interpretive signs, told us about the history of the statue, along with its symbolism. We got to see the statue from every angle, towering above the island and the star fort its pedestal was built on.

The Statue of Liberty from the left
The Statue of Liberty from the left

Then the interpretive tour pointed out that, when the statue was built, not everyone (especially Black people) thought the symbolism was especially appropriate, given the legacy of slavery and racism in the United States.

Calvin looks up at the Statue of Liberty
Calvin looks up at the Statue of Liberty

I caught up with Calvin in front of the statue and got a picture with him and Julian in front of the statue, providing fodder for our end-of-the-year holiday card this year.

Julian, Jaeger, and Calvin with the Statue of Liberty
Julian, Jaeger, and Calvin with the Statue of Liberty

After circumambulating the statue, we stepped into the museum on the island, which had a video presentation reviewing the history and construction of the statue. The video was shown in three parts in three rooms; after each short segment there was an intermission so we could get up and walk into the next room to see the next part of the video. This was an interesting choice, and seemed to solve the problem of making everyone wait for the beginning of the next video before seating anyone.

The Statue of Liberty's original torch
The Statue of Liberty's original torch

The museum showed the statue's original torch, modified multiple times from its original, with the goal of being able to function as a lighthouse (though that never actually worked as intended). The torch was removed and replaced when the statue was retrofitted in the 1980s; now the torch matches the original design intent, covered in gold leaf to reflect light rather than supplying light itself.

Model of the internal structure of the Statue of Liberty
Model of the internal structure of the Statue of Liberty

We didn't get to climb inside the statue, but I did take note of the model showing the interior iron truss structure of the statue, complete with a double helix staircase ascending and descending the body of the statue.

I'll need to come back to New York to climb to the crown again, whenever the Park Service opens the crown again.

By this point it was after noon and past time for lunch. We ate at the island's cafe, which had an acceptable selection of veg food and was adequate to feed us for the second half of the day.

Last view of the Statue of Liberty from the ferry dock
Last view of the Statue of Liberty from the ferry dock

We stopped by the gift shop on our way off the island; I got a couple of stickers, because that's apparently what I collect now. We caught the ferry off Liberty Island. The ferry took the long way around Liberty Island towards Ellis Island, giving us another view of the statue with the Manhattan skyline in the background. This time I was ready for the shot (and I chose to capture the shot as I wanted to remember it, with just the statue and the skyline, rather than the way I actually experienced it, crowded on the top deck of a ferry with a couple hundred other tourists).

The Statue of Liberty and Manhattan
The Statue of Liberty and Manhattan

The first time I visited the Statue of Liberty, in 1990, this view of the statue showed the twin towers of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. That view hasn't existed for more than twenty years.

Then we cruised in front of the statue again, giving the full view of the Statue of Liberty, Enlightening the World.

The Statue of Liberty, Enlightening the World
The Statue of Liberty, Enlightening the World

Our next stop was Ellis Island, another important site in American national history. According to the marketing copy, a hundred million Americans can trace their ancestry through immigrants who passed through Ellis Island when American immigration policy allowed tens of millions of white Europeans to show up and establish permanent legal residency and citizenship.

Tourists in the main hall at Ellis Island
Tourists in the main hall at Ellis Island

We disembarked on Ellis Island and picked up up audio tours and started working our way through the exhibits. Calvin headed off at his own speed; I let him go with the hope that I could probably find him at some point (we got good cell coverage on the island). Here every stop on the audio tour had both a children's recording and an adult recording, and Julian decided to listen to listen to both of them, which meant that he took twice as long as strictly necessary to go through the exhibits describing the experience of a typical third-class steamship passenger immigrating to the United States. (The first and second-class passengers were cleared for immigration while still on their ships; only the third and steerage classes actually visited Ellis Island. But most of the passengers were third-class. La Lorraine, the ship that my Weng ancestors sailed on, had the capacity for 446 first-class passengers, 116 second-class passengers, and 552 third-class passengers.)

Julian and Aunt Bethany in the main hall at Ellis Island
Julian and Aunt Bethany in the main hall at Ellis Island

We started in the main hall, with a massive vaulted roof enclosing a cavernous space over an echoing tile floor, where immigration officers asked people questions to check their answers against the data given in the ship's manifests. We saw the main hall mostly empty, expect for tourists and a couple of benches lining the sides; while the island was in operation it held lines of people seeking admission to the United States.

The rest of the exhibits went through a series of side rooms off the main hall, talking about the medical examinations and the various experiences of people who immigrated through Ellis Island. We heard several variations of the same story that I first heard about my great uncle Gus when he immigrated at age 8 in 1905 (apparently it was a common experience): seeing a banana for the first time and trying to eat it with the peel.

Union Pacific rail map of Colorado
Union Pacific rail map of Colorado

I took note of the railroad maps reproduced around the galleries on the museum, illustrating the paths that immigrants took once they arrived in the United States. My Weng ancestors traveled to Hygiene in Boulder County, between Boulder and Longmont; they might have taken the Union Pacific to Denver or Boulder or Longmont, as reproduced on the map I found (and then, awkwardly, attempted to photograph).

We finally left Ellis Island after 16:00, after a fascinating look into US immigration policy in the early twentieth century, how it formed US national identity, and how the individual experience of my ancestors were multiplied tens of millions of times. I had missed several galleries while Julian was taking his time listening to all of the audio tours; I figured I could come back sometime later (and I was tempted to come back for the hard hat tour of the other half of the island anyway).

Ferry returns to Lower Manhattan
Ferry returns to Lower Manhattan

We caught the ferry back to Manhattan (which I wanted to think of as "the mainland", though it's technically an island; in fact I spent my entire trip in New York City on a series of islands) and dropped by the Charging Bull statue, standing in an island on Broadway. There were two lines to take pictures of the bull: one for the front, the normal tourist view; and one for the back, for finance bros to get their picture with the bull's testicles. We stayed on the other side of the street and photographed it from afar.

Tourists with the Charging Bull
Tourists with the Charging Bull

We walked a couple of blocks to the New York Stock Exchange, where Fearless Girl now faces off with the NYSE building, daring Wall Street to behave better.

Fearless Girl
Fearless Girl

We stopped for a late-afternoon ice cream snack at a tiny shop around the corner a couple of blocks away. While we were eating (outside on a tiny parklet sitting on the narrow side street) the clouds finally opened up and poured rain for about a minute, splashing off the hastily-assembled awning that somehow protected us from the deluge. Then the rain stopped and the clouds began to part and I saw blue sky at last, but the humidity remained stubbornly high.

Properly fortified for the rest of the afternoon, we walked a couple of blocks to The Oculus, the elaborate shopping arcade that forms the above-ground structure for the PATH train station at the World Trade Center. (I haven't seen the current station; I think it was under construction the last time I visited lower Manhattan, but I did see a Lego version at Legoland a couple of years ago.)

The Oculus and One World Trade Center
The Oculus and One World Trade Center

It was awkward to get a good picture of the spiky station from the outside, and it wasn't much easier inside. The spine of the structure is supposed to open up and frame One World Trade Center opposite (and I could, if I stood right, line up the tower in the windows on the spine, but the effect wasn't especially rewarding), but aside from being an immediately-recognizable icon it seemed too white and sterile to be of much use, more like a tomb formed from the corpse of a long-dead leviathan, lined by its angular ribcage, than a shopping-arcade-slash-train-station.

Inside the Oculus
Inside the Oculus

Actually getting out of the Oculus turned out to be more trouble than we expected. The whole structure seemed aggressively symmetrical until we looked for the staircase at the opposite end of the hall that would obviously take us back to ground level that didn't exist because that's where the actual train concourse actually was and it didn't work to put another entrance there. We backtracked and found ourselves outside at ground level again, a short walk from the pool occupying the footprint of the North Tower.

North Tower Pool at the World Trade Center site
North Tower Pool at the World Trade Center site

The last time I was in lower Manhattan, nine years ago, the memorial pools occupying the footprints of the World Trade Center towers had been built, bearing the names of the dead carved around the rim of the pools, but the rest of the park was still under construction. Today the park is complete, One World Trade Center is open, and the tiny gift shop has been replaced by a proper memorial museum. (I still wasn't ready to see the memorial museum; maybe next time.)

Julian and Aunt Bethany at the North Tower Pool
Julian and Aunt Bethany at the North Tower Pool

While we were standing by the North Tower Pool someone came up, excused himself, touched one of the names on the panel right in front of us, and walked away.

Names at the North Tower Pool
Names at the North Tower Pool

Last time I was here, Calvin was four years old and I struggled to explain the tragedy of September 11 so he'd understand:

I told Calvin that bad people made planes crash into very tall buildings and made the buildings fall down, and that many people were hurt. He said, "That makes me very sad that many people got hurt," and I said, "That makes me very sad too." He asked whether the police had caught the bad people and put them in jail, and I hesitated, thinking about a decade of the War on Terror and Guantanamo Bay and CIA black sites and extraordinary rendition and waterboarding and Afghanistan and Iraq and Abu Ghraib and Osama bin Laden at Abbottabad and simplified the whole mess into "Yes, they did." We can fill in the details when he's older.

Nine years later I think I've made good on that promise: I checked out a copy of the graphic novel version of the 9/11 commission report and gave it to him to read (which turned out fortuitous, when he was invited to a performance of the 9/11-adjacent musical Come From Away two days before we left). I asked what he remembered of the memorial from his first visit, and he remembered seeing the holes in the ground and my telling him about the buildings falling down.

Calvin, Julian, and Aunt Bethany at the North Tower Pool
Calvin, Julian, and Aunt Bethany at the North Tower Pool

The rest of the site was peaceful, park-like, with new trees planted on the grounds with places to sit, plus one Survivor Tree that lived through the collapse of the towers and now stands, regrown, in the park, a metaphor become real.

Aunt Bethany and Calvin at the World Trade Center park
Aunt Bethany and Calvin at the World Trade Center park

We left the WTC site and caught a subway uptown to The Strand, a legendary local bookstore ("miles of books", their slogan proclaims) for some light recreational window-shopping. I ended up buying a book about the subway, plus two more stickers, and Julian talked me into buying a cat-themed casual board game. (It did not actually take much persuasion.)

Jaeger with the Strand Bookstore
Jaeger with the Strand Bookstore

With our needs for commerce satisfied, we continued uptown and ate supper at a South Indian restaurant around the corner from Bethany's apartment. We ordered a bunch of food (and ate most of it), but Julian didn't want me to order a dosa for him because he didn't know what it was. I acquiesced and ordered other food for him; and then when the dosas came and he ate samples of Bethany's dosa and masala, he said earnestly and unprompted, "I admit I learned my lesson about dosa."

It was late by the time we headed back to Bethany's apartment for one more night before heading home the next day.

I took so many pictures I couldn't fit them all above. The rest are at Photos on 2022-07-18.

if this were a type of made-in-a-can spaghetti sauce, it'd be called
"Classic Style Ken"
- Scott J. Galvin, 08 March 2000