A birthday bash for France's gift to US -- the Statue of Liberty

It was a very special Fouth of July in New York City. Even those prepared not to like Liberty Weekend -- celebrating the 100th birthday of the Statue of Liberty -- had to admit it was a wonderful time. Maybe it was ``too stagey,'' as one New Yorker put it. And maybe the amount of money spent seemed outrageous.

But to eyewitness observers, and to others who watched via television, Liberty Weekend was, well, fantastic.

Judy Kooser from Topeka, Kan., literally screamed with delight during the fireworks extravaganza Friday night. She and husband Nick Good were in Battery Park on the tip of Manhattan when the dazzling display of red, purple, green, and orange light burst like gigantic flowers in the air.

``The truth is [Judy] missed the Bicentennial fireworks, and she wasn't going to miss this,'' kidded Mr. Good earlier as the couple sat on folding aluminum stools, writing post cards and talking with ``neighbors.''

``It's been exciting,'' said Ms. Kooser. ``We were saying earlier that this makes us realize how wonderful the US is . . . the diversity of culture.''

That was one of the keynotes of the celebration. In the nearby crowd were blacks, Hispanics, Indians, Jews, and Koreans. A man from Dublin sat with his girlfriend from Boston. Young adults waved flags and said the Pledge of Allegiance.

On Thursday evening, before the opening ceremony, New York Mayor Edward I. Koch said he wanted out-of-towners to ``think of New York City as their home away from home.'' It was a tribute to the generally genial crowds and the abundant police, who did everything from giving directions to controlling crowds going into subways, that the city was a very fun and pleasant place to be over the weekend.

``Everyone's been very nice,'' said Rick Velafonte from Union, N.J., who had arrived at 8:30 a.m. on July 4th to see Operation Sail, the parade of tall ships. He had choice seats on the sidewalk at the tip of Manhattan for the evening's fireworks. There were an estimated 2 million people watching the display.

Sally Benhar said she came in from Long Island to take part in a bit of history. As she sat, she figured out that the next big event will be in 1992, the 500th anniversary of Columbus's voyage to the New World.

``I like forward-thinking people,'' laughed Ms. Kooser, who sat nearby. ``They can begin to get the fireworks ready.''

The four-day celebration, controversial for its expense and its commercial aspects, began on Thursday evening with the floodlit ``unveiling'' of the recently restored Statue of Liberty -- a nearly three-year, $66 million effort. President Reagan and French President Fran,cois Mitterrand presided over the opening act. New United States citizens were sworn in via satellite hookups by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger.

Most of the tributes were pure show biz. Actor Gregory Peck hosted and narrated the history of the Statue of Liberty.

A musical tribute to immigrants featured performers Neil Diamond, Larry Gatland, Jose Feliciano, Diane Schuur, and Debbie Allen.

On Saturday a classical-music concert was held in Central Park, and Sunday included a sports salute to Miss Liberty.

In the end, it was a statue itself that held the spotlight, as thousands of boats -- ranging from rubber rafts to an aircraft carrier -- crowded New York Harbor. Even the estimated 40,000 fireworks lighting up her base and soaring over her head Friday night were simply jewels adorning one of the country's most loved symbols.

On Saturday, the statue once again became the people's monument as schoolchildren helped First Lady Nancy Reagan reopen it to the public. About 10,000 people toured the statue, filling Liberty Island to capacity and forcing officials to stop bringing tourists to the island at 4 p.m., an hour early.

There were some odd juxtapositions. Those who went to the opening ceremonies on Governors Island -- mostly paying guests and jounalists -- arrived there in special buses, limousines, and at least one Rolls Royce. The poor and working-class residents of Red Hook in Brooklyn stared at the arrivals from the street corners.

And few regular riders of New York subways were used to such polite treatment during crowded conditions, including train announcements in Grand Central that welcomed visitors to New York and explained the subway shuttle to the Times Square area.

The only sour note sounded as the Chilean Navy training ship Esmeralda sailed into view in the tall-ships parade. It was met by boos and hisses from some spectators. Critics of the Chilean military government have charged that opponents of Gen. Augusto Pinochet were tortured on board.

The four-day salute to the statue was scheduled to end Sunday with ceremonies at Giants Stadium at the Meadowlands in New Jersey.

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