The light of liberty and sunshine
We ended our trip by spending Monday visiting some of the most popular tourist attractions in the city.
First was the Statue of Liberty, or as we learned, the statue is actually named Liberty Enlightening the World. A gift from the people of France, the statue is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. I encourage you to read about Lady Liberty’s history and symbolism here: http://www.nps.gov/stli/historyculture/index.htm
Kelley and I have learned the value of the audio tours often available at historic sites and museums. This was certainly the case here. It was a glorious morning on Liberty Island as we circled the statue’s base, listening to descriptions of the day the statue was dedicated in 1886, and about the decade of construction that preceded it.
Gustav Eiffel – yes, of the Eiffel Tower– designed the labyrinth of internal iron trusses that supports the statue’s copper skin, which is only the thickness of two pennies.
It was truly humbling and thrilling to stand at the base of this ENORMOUS work of art – the international symbol ofAmerica’s promise of freedom. Adding to that specialness was the clear blue cloudless sky above and the fact that there were very few others on the island with us.
We had reserved space on the very first boat of the morning and that put us in the park in time to see the way morning light illuminated the statue. I took many, many photos, as you might imagine, and didn’t have to elbow through crowds to do so.
The Statue of Liberty has been the symbol of hope and awaiting freedom for hundreds of thousands of immigrants who have made our country what it is today. She and her torch were what welcomed those ships full of weary travelers to our shores, but passing through processing at Ellis Island is what gave them the key.
Ellis Island is a complex of buildings on its own island reached by a short ferry ride from the lady herself. Kelley and I were surprised to see how many buildings actually comprise the site. When we learned more about the immigration process in the late 1880s through the 1950s, it became apparent why so many buildings were needed.
Third class steam ship passengers from other countries, who wished to live in the United States, were “processed” at Ellis Island to determine whether they would be granted legal entry. Most passed through in a matter of hours, but some were detained for further medical, intellectual or mental testing. Those who were truly ill were kept in the hospital there until they recovered or were sent back home, and their accompanying family members lived on the island in dorms until the hospitalized relative’s fate was determined.
We saw the court room where immigrants threatened with being returned to their homeland pled their cases. We also saw the room where those who were allowed through met up with their loved ones already in America.
I imagine the sight of the Statue of Liberty from Ellis Island continued to give immigrants hope as they boarded a ferry bound for New York’s shore, and that those who passed by her once again as they were sent out to sea, rejected by America’s freedom, loathed her sight.
Back on the mainland, we made our way to the city’s financial district. We had tickets to visit the newly-opened 9/11 memorial there. It wasn’t planned – but was a nice coincidence – that we passed right by the “Occupy Wall Street” protesters who are still occupying Wall Street from their camp at Liberty Square.
The space is tightly-packed with tents and peaceful protesters playing music and holding up signs. A few protesters engage the MANY passersby clogging the sidewalk with the “rubberneck” factor, though officers periodically asked people to keep the sidewalk traffic flowing. There is definitely a police presence, but no palpable tension between them and the campers.
What comes of the Occupy movement remains to be seen, but America’s freedoms allow the protesters to assemble. I had the feeling that we walked past the birthplace of a movement that will have historical significance and impact.
Just a couple blocks away from the Occupy camp is the entrance to the newly opened 9/11 Memorial site. Tickets are free but reservations are required.
Before being allowed to walk the long path toward the memorial, which winds around the construction site of new World Trade Center buildings, visitors go through airport-like security. No one minds; it’s an understatement to say visitors comprehend why that level of security is needed at this particular location. The horrific events at this tragic site gave rise to the increased security and screenings Americans have become accustomed to over the past 10 years.
The memorial site is a peaceful, orderly and respectful place filled with trees now dressed in fall’s colors. The two square pools, which are on the actual footprints of the north and south towers, are discovered as visitors proceed through the paths and trees.
You’ve likely read about the square black granite fountains/pools and the seemingly bottomless square drains in the center of each footprint. The design combines an embodiment of endless falling blackness with elegance and beauty – an amazing accomplishment. The pools are mesmerizing.
The sound of the water when standing right at the pools drowns out the city’s noise, even the din of construction right outside the memorial’s borders. The water sound is important; it lays a blanket of reverence over this plot of hallowed ground.
The names of those lost in the towers, the planes that struck the towers, at the Pentagon and on Flight 93 are deeply embossed into the black metal frame-like railing surrounding each pool. Also there are the names of first-responders who were lost. I hadn’t gotten choked up until Kelley pointed out to me the first and last name of a woman, followed immediately by the words, “and her unborn child.”
That did it.
As we were leaving the memorial park, tears were still streaming down my face. I thought about the people who will visit this site and how they’ll think about what their loved ones endured that morning – a morning with a clear blue sky, just like the day on which we visited. I thought about those bottomless pools and deeply-grooved names – and how I hope they provide some peace.
It wasn’t until later that afternoon, as I reflected on the places we had visited, that I realized the connection between them. Each are embodiments of the freedom offered by these United States. And each illustrates how freedom’s adoption – and disdain – has shaped our country, and is shaping it still.