- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 3, 2004

The Statue of Liberty, closed because of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks will reopen to visitors in late July (by no coincidence, just in time for the Republican National Convention). That’s good news.

Visitors will be allowed to climb to the top of the pedestal but not up the inside of the statue to Miss Liberty’s crown. That’s very unfortunate.

After installing a security system, the National Park Service in December 2001 allowed people to visit the island, but the pedestal and the museum inside remained closed.

Curiously, Liberty Island may be the worst vantage point in New York to view the statue. It’s a very small island and a very tall — 151 feet — statue requires major neck craning. Not surprisingly, the number of visitors has fallen almost by half.



Everybody should visit the Statue of Liberty. I have been there four times, once by myself and once with each of our kids. It was a unique experience, and what made it so was the climb inside the statue — 192 steps to the pedestal and then another 162 steps to the crown.

Emma Lazarus’ poem inside the base should read, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free — and you people with acrophobia come along, too.”

Typically, the experience entails getting off the ferry and almost immediately standing at the end of a long line, because every time I was there so was the entire school system of the state of New Jersey.

Shuffle forward long enough and you get inside the pedestal and have an invigorating but doable climb to the top of the pedestal and its encircling promenade with splendid views of the harbor and Manhattan. You’re up 16 stories, but the encircling stonewall is high and thick. No fear here.

Now for the statue itself. The Park Service had a sign saying the next climb was strenuous, not for the weak of heart, and that if you did run into trouble the service would not have an easy time getting you back down. Fair enough.

The spartan metal stairs inside the statue soon get steeper and narrower and finally become a tight spiral staircase whose guardrail, as I recall, came up to about my knee. If you looked down, which I was foolish enough to do each time, you were staring at a six- or seven-story drop broken only by beams and girders for your plummeting body to bounce off of. (The internal structure of the statue was designed by Alexandre Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame. The effect is similar except you’re enclosed by rippling, windowless walls, the inside of Liberty’s robes.)

And finally you get to the top, a cramped space in the crown with small, smeared windows that afford a view in only one direction. And in the summer the aroma gets a little intense. But you have arrived. You have done your duty by the statue. Of course, now you have to climb back down.

The Park Service would deny this essential American experience to us. It’s like visiting the Empire State Building and going to the fourth floor. The explanation is that there isn’t enough accessibility nor enough exits to evacuate the statue in an emergency. And it took them 117 years to find this out?

The Park Service plans to put a glass ceiling at the top of the pedestal so you can peer up inside the statue. It won’t be the same.

Dale McFeatters is a columnist for Scripps Howard News Service.

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