- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 3, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) — Hailed once again as a “beacon of hope,” the Statue of Liberty welcomed back huddled masses of tourists yesterday for the first time since it was shut down after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton was on hand to officially open the doors, and a military choir sang George M. Cohan’s “You’re a Grand Old Flag” before the crowd rose for the national anthem.

“This beacon of hope and liberty is once again open to the public, sending a reassuring message to the world that freedom is alive in New York and shining brighter than ever before,” Gov. George E. Pataki said.

Plans to reopen Lady Liberty’s pedestal to the public went ahead despite new warnings of terrorist attacks on financial centers in nearby Manhattan, Newark, N.J., and Washington.

“It’s pretty awesome. It’s a privilege to be here,” said Dennis Wallace of Sheldon, Iowa, who drove 21 hours to visit the statue. “The announcement of the orange alert will not stop us.”

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in the opening ceremony urged Americans to visit the statue and demonstrate to terrorists that the country would never be “coerced into abandoning any symbol of America.”

Free tickets were quickly snapped up for the first trips back inside, with some disappointed visitors left out in the summer heat.

“I’m not afraid,” said Lt. Dario Coleanni, 26, an Italian army officer.

He and a friend said they paid a scalper $20 each for the normally free tickets to get inside.

“It’s my first time in the U.S.,” he explained. “I’m interested in seeing what’s important in America: the Statue of Liberty.”

Visitors can tour a reopened museum inside the pedestal and enjoy a panoramic view from the observation deck at the pedestal top, about 16 stories high. The rest of the statue continues to be off-limits because it cannot accommodate large numbers of tourists and does not meet safety codes.

“Whether this is your first visit or one of many, I know this will be a memorable one,” site superintendent Cynthia Garrett told the crowd.

Tightened security measures at the 118-year-old national monument include a new anti-bomb detection device that blows a blast of air into clothing and then checks for particles of explosive residue. Bomb-sniffing dogs also were present during the preview.

Liberty Island, the statue’s 12-acre home, was closed for 100 days after September 11. The second of two terrorist-hijacked jetliners had skimmed low over the statue just seconds before it crashed into the World Trade Center’s south tower 1 miles away. Airport-type metal detectors were installed to screen visitors boarding the ferry from Lower Manhattan, and the island was reopened in December 2001.

Although the pedestal is open, Larry Parkinson, deputy assistant interior secretary for law enforcement and security, said it was unlikely that visitors will have access to the statue’s interior spiral staircases in the foreseeable future.

The pedestal museum tells the story of the statue, from its dedication in 1886 as a gift from France to its rededication after a major overhaul a century later.

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