Every American who’s able to should visit the Statue of Liberty and climb up to the crown — once. More about that later.
The great lady that dominates New York Harbor has had a run of bad luck lately. After a year of being closed for repairs — she may be a great lady, but she’s also an old lady — the statue reopened last Oct. 28, the 126th anniversary of her dedication. Then Superstorm Sandy hit Oct. 29 and the statue closed again, not because of damage to the structure, but because Sandy flooded 75 percent of Liberty Island with a 13-foot storm surge.
The statue was undamaged, thanks to the intricate internal supporting ironwork designed by Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, architect of the Eiffel Tower, which, it should be noted, is also still standing.
Water never touched the statue, but the storm tore out the island’s utilities, power supply, docks and walkways. The National Park Service worked heroically to get the island in shape to reopen for the July Fourth holiday. The public responded in kind by snapping up all the tickets to climb to the crown and all but same-day tickets to climb to the top of the base.
That was a clear signal to people whose hobby is not finding long lines and standing in them to come back another time. As Sandy showed, the statue isn’t going anywhere, and, believe me, you will stand in line.
I have been to the statue four times. Once by myself, because I had some time to kill and had promised myself a martini later as a reward for my plucky patriotism, and once with each of our three children.
The first thing you have to know is that the statue is tall — really tall, about 305 vertical feet. The second thing you have to know is that it’s all stairs. Well, mostly stairs. You’re eased into it by the stairs that climb through the base and the pedestal, wide government-issue stairs of the kind you find in major federal buildings.
Then there are the stairs in the statue itself, 354 of them. They begin as more or less normal metal stairs, but then morph into a narrow, ever-tightening and -narrowing spiral staircase, more like a flattened ladder, protected by a knee-high banister.
This allows for an almost-unobstructed view straight down through the center of the statue, which allows your imagination free rein to envision your body bouncing from truss to truss because of the pushy school kids behind you.
On a hot, sticky day, with the stairs packed with school outings, the smell of ripe, sweating adolescents is overpowering — it’s not their fault; it’s the combination of age and lack of ventilation — and you have the feeling that if you did slip, the heat and viscosity of the sweat-soaked air is such that you will be borne up to the crown rather than fall to an ignominious death in the inside of Lady Liberty’s sandals.
The Park Service, to its credit, posts plenty of warnings about the steepness and strenuousness of the climb, and the real difficulty of getting you down if you have a heart attack or simply freeze on the spiral staircase. But being patriotic Americans, we regard any government concern about our welfare with the greatest suspicion.
In time, it dawns on you that the worst place to see a windowless statue is from the inside. There are windows — small ones, smeared to opacity by small hands — at the very top, the goal of your climb. You can see very little.
The best view is from the top of the pedestal. It’s easy to get to and easy to get down from, and while the rest of your party is toiling its way upward through the statue’s innards, you are comfortably ensconced on a ground-level Park Service bench with a book and the prospect of a martini once back in Manhattan.
Visit the statue your way; then do it mine. No need to thank me.
Dale McFeatters is a senior writer for Scripps Howard News Service. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.