Full disclosure: I totally thought the Statue of Liberty was huge. When you see pictures of it, with the Manhattan skyline in the distance, it looks gigantic.
I also couldn’t remember what Ellis Island was. I knew I’d learned about it at one point, but out of sight, out of mind. I figured it was New York’s version of Alcatraz or something.
(My parents are super proud of my learnin’.)
Then Caitlin and I went to the top of the Rockefeller Center, and she pointed out the Statue. And it looked tiny.
Caitlin made the arrangements and prepaid for us to go on the 10am ferry. She did it online a couple of months before my visit so we could reserve pedestal access. $18 to take the ferry; $3 if you wanted to go into the crown (sold out months in advance); and no extra charge, though you had to reserve it, to go into the pedestal.
Before boarding, we had to go through security that bested any airport; my KIA bracelet, which never sets off alarms, set this one off. We walked to the dock, and the Statue of Liberty looked cold against the gray sky and steel water.
The ride out was short – maybe five minutes. Up close, the statue still looks pretty small. The base she stands on, though, is imposing and heavy, like a fortress.
It was cold, and the wind made it worse, but we were there, and we tried to act like excited tourists.
You’re allowed to walk around the island at your leisure, and we headed clockwise around the Statue.
If the dock was at 6 o’clock, the entrance to the pedestal was at 12. The wait to enter was a half an hour or so. Since I had my backpack, I ventured into the tented area at the beginning of the line to put my stuff into a locker. I walked up to a machine, selected a locker, put in two $1 bills, then scanned my thumbprint in order to open the locker door. Awesome – there’s no way anyone else could possibly open my locker. Weird – hey, Big Brother.
Once again, after going through the line but before entering the base, we went through security. Hats, gloves, shoes, scarves, coats, jackets, jewelry, purses off. I remembered to take off my bracelet this time.
Finally, we were free to explore. We entered, and inside the first floor was a life-size replica of the flame.
After finding the stairs, we made our way up several switchbacks to the top of the starburst-shaped base.
We reached the first landing and, looking up, you could see the inner workings of the Statue.
We joined the crowd outside and walked around taking pictures of the Manhattan skyline.
Chilled by the wind, we went back inside and climbed another set of stairs to the top of the second pedestal. The views were lovely of the harbor and of the city, and we were that much closer to Lady Liberty herself.
With little more to do, we quickly made our way back down. Multiple ferries shuttled passengers from each of the three docks at a 15-minute interval, and we were ready to be on one going to Ellis Island.
As Caitlin and I walked to the dock, I think we were both a bit surprised by how unexcited we were by the Statue of Liberty. It’s cool, but it wasn’t really that inspiring; mayble I’m spoiled because I have birthright citizenship. Maybe if I’d had to earn it, or if I knew more about my family’s struggle to arrive in the States, or if my family had initially landed in New York and seen the Statue of Liberty, it would mean more.
The second ride on the ferry, I stood on the open-air back deck to watch the scenery and enjoy the quiet. We docked at Ellis Island, and Caitlin and I were, again, a bit lost emotionally. Did we really care?
We entered the main hall and sat. Our feet and legs were hurting from miles of walking and extended periods of standing, and it felt good to relax. There were a few options of exhibits to see, but I, quite frankly, didn’t really have interest in any of them.
Caitlin wanted to go upstairs to the main hall. We took the stairs and found ourselves in a bright, open room.
This was where thousands of people were examined in mere seconds by hurried doctors to determine if they were medically acceptable to enter the United States.
I read the signs, and I realized just how nerve-wracking the experience must’ve been. Finally, as I stood in that hall and imagined what people went through, the gravity of where we were hit me.
Here, in this hall, was were I wanted to spend time, soaking it all in.
We were keeping an eye on the time, as we needed to have enough time to get back to Manhattan, grab lunch, and then make our way to the 9/11 Memorial at 3:00pm. Not too much later, we wandered back outside and waited for the ferry that would take us back to New York City.