A grand reopening for Lady Liberty's crown

An estimated 15,000 visitors endured two-hour waits Saturday to visit the Statue of Liberty – but under new rules only 240 got to climb to the crown.

Richard Drew/AP
The Statue of Liberty's crown opened July 4 for the first time since September 11, 2001.

Requesting a lifetime together after climbing 354 steps in a near-claustrophobic spiral staircase sounds counterproductive. But that's the advice Aaron Weisinger got last month when he asked Brian Snyder to help him scope out the best spot around New York Harbor to pop the question.

Mr. Snyder, vice president of the Statue of Liberty Club, knew the perfect place: Lady Liberty’s crown. As would be expected of a man in his position, he had snagged two of the 240 sellout tickets for the July 4 grand reopening of the crown, closed for safety reasons since 9/11, and he was only too happy to give them to Mr. Weisinger.

The seven-peaked headdress holds sentimental value for Snyder. He had proposed to his own wife there 11 years ago. News that the crown would reopen had put him in a cheery mood.

“It's one of those things where it shows the world that you can't keep Americans afraid for too long,” Snyder says by phone, echoing a pride evident among the estimated 15,000 visitors who braved two-hour waits to enter the Statue of Liberty Saturday.

For many, the crown’s reopening, coming five years after the statue’s in 2004, mirrors America’s gradual emergence from the pall cast by 9/11.

“When the crown remained closed, it might have suggested that those ideals were also closed,” says Erica Doss, a professor of American studies at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., and the author of a forthcoming book on post-9/11 memorializing.

“To have her reopen suggests those ideals are being reopened or are being made more operational today,” Professor Doss says.

Yet the festiveness of the crowd, evident in Saturday’s parade of spongy, lime-green crowns, make it hard to believe that the crown nearly was not opened at all. Fire safety concerns about the 123-year-old narrow stairwell, lack of funding for improvements, and a 2004 National Parks Service report that only one-third of Lady Liberty's estimated 3 million annual visitors braved the ascent induced a kind of apathy about reopening the crown.

Crown lobbyists, including Rep. Anthony Wiener (D) of New York, found a compromise. Only 10 visitors will be allowed to climb at a time, which means 240 visitors per day get to see the entrance to New York Harbor that more than 12 million European immigrants sailed through to neighboring Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954.

On reopening day, Sue Petrakovits-Reuss of Chicago teared up unexpectedly at first sight of the statue, looming and strident, above the deck of the ferry. She couldn’t help but think about how her late father, fleeing communist Hungary as a stowaway, must have felt at this precise moment 51 years ago.

“I’d always wanted to come here with him,” she says.

Suzie Andros’s children, 7-year-old Nick and 9-year-old Alexis, had only ever known post-9/11 America.

“That’s why it’s important for my kids to be here. The crown had never been open in their lifetime,” says Ms. Andros, who was heading over to Ellis Island to look up Andreopaulos, the Greek origins of her husband’s name.

Elizabeth Breder (soon-to-be-Weisinger) says Lady Liberty represents “starting a life together. It’s solid. It’ll be here for a long time. And so will our relationship.”

The crown will remain open until 2011.

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