NEW YORK — The Statue of Liberty, a beacon of hope for waves of immigrants at the turn of the century — and these days a destination for waves of tourists — reopened to the public Thursday, less than nine months after the destruction caused by Superstorm Sandy.
That October storm left three-quarters of Liberty Island underwater and destroyed electrical, phone, water and sewage systems. Sandy struck just a day after the statue had reopened following a yearlong renovation. And before that, there was the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which kept visitors from the inside of the statue for nearly 9 years.
Officials said that they hoped that Thursday’s re-opening — the statue’s fourth since 1986 — would be its last for a while. The statue has drawn as many as 4 million visitors a year.
“I’m getting a little sick and tired of opening and closing the Statue of Liberty,” said Dave Luchsinger, the Statue of Liberty National Monument’s superintendent. “This time, I think we’ll just leave it open.”
And this time, the opening came with predictable patriotic fanfare, including a small marching band clad in Revolutionary War replica uniforms; members of Congress; Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell; and, of course, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose pink-collared shirt was soaked through with sweat as he waited on the dais for his turn to speak.
When he did, Bloomberg said that the statue was “at the heart of what America is really all about.”
“Thank God we have people like the French,” Bloomberg added, nodding to the statue’s history, as a gift from France in the 1880s.
Bloomberg also took the chance to make some pointed comments about climate change, which he said was at the root of increasingly volatile weather conditions across the country and, possibly, major events like Sandy.
“Having an argument about climate change … is myopic,” Bloomberg said. “The bottom line is that we have to prepare for the future.”
Liberty Island’s recovery, in which crews laid down 42,000 board-feet of new deck, 2,000 feet of hedging, and new electrical, heating, and cooling systems, stands in stark contrast to Ellis Island, which remains closed.
Ellis Island was completely submerged after the storm, threatening the island’s archives, which were later removed by the National Park Service Museum Emergency Response Team and taken to a climate-controlled facility in Maryland, said Jonathan B. Jarvis, the director of the Park Service.
And while work at Ellis Island continues, Jarvis declined to give an estimate, of a re-opening date for the island, saying that the challenges there were far greater.
“Ellis is still a process,” he said.
That hardly mattered to those on the ground Thursday at Liberty Island. Many visitors were ecstatic, some having come from halfway across the world to photograph and climb the stairs of the world’s most famous monuments.
Wearing a felt Statue of Liberty crown and all smiles, Rick Perkins, 45, of Little Rock, Ark., was one of the first off the ferry at Liberty Island, around 8:45 a.m. Perkins said that he, his wife and two children had been planning to come to New York for at least eight months, and were only dimly aware that the Statue of Liberty had been closed for all of that time. So having the re-opening coincide with their vacation turned out to be perfect timing.
“One of the first things we wanted to do is go to the Statue of Liberty,” Perkins said. “This is something we’ve always wanted to see.”
Others who weren’t lucky enough to score Independence Day tickets to the island said that the reopening meant something to them nonetheless.
Rick Burns, president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 49 of Westchester County, called the statue a symbol of “our patriotism and our country.”
He was not at the statue’s re-opening. Instead he was in Hastings-on-Hudson, where a half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was to be on display for a few days.
But that doesn’t mean Burns wasn’t thinking about Lady Liberty.
“It’ll be nice to see the lady operational again,” Burns said, adding that he had been to Liberty Island but never up to the statue’s famous crown. “Maybe I’ll add it to my bucket list.”http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/07/04/statue-of-liberty-once-again-open-for-tourists/2490369/