It was bound to happen eventually: today, we did not complete our planned itinerary. We still managed to check a few things off the New York checklist:
- The Statue of Liberty
- Ellis Island
- Battery Park
- The Sphere
- The Wall Street “bull” statue
- Riding the subway
Our main goal for today was the Liberty Island / Ellis Island trip. There’s a system of ferries that takes people from New Jersey and New York to Liberty Island (where the Statue of Liberty is) and Ellis Island (site of the old immigration station). It’s set up so that you buy one ticket and, as long as you get on the right ferries, you can visit both islands and end up back where you started (the site has a big warning about not getting on the wrong ferry because if you end up in New Jersey instead of New York, you’re on your own).
We had heard that, to avoid long lines, you need to get there early; ideally for the first ferry. We thought about that and decided no, we can’t get up that early. We still set the alarm for 7:00 (some vacation, eh?), and I think we made it for the second ferry at around 8:40. The timing worked out, because we could buy our ticket and get right on.
I was impressed by the Statue of Liberty – I expected to be a little underwhelmed (like when you get to Mt. Rushmore and go “That’s it?”) but it’s pretty impressive, especially up close, and they have a nice museum talking about the history and engineering. Some of the things I remember that I found interesting:
- The outside is just a thin copper shell, a couple mm think.
- The interior (a support system build of girders and trusses) was designed by Eiffel.
- It ended up in New York because the designer toured a few cities and thought it would look good there.
- Once upon a time, you could climb a ladder and get up into the torch.
- It was built in France, disassembled, and shipped to the US, but the French workers that took it apart labelled some of the pieces in French and the American workers couldn’t understand the instructions.
- It’s called the “Statue of Liberty” because it’s literally a statue of Liberty – that’s the name of the Roman goddess depicted. (The official name is actually “Liberty Enlightening the World”.)
- The design went through many changes – the original concept was intended for the Suez Canal.
- The pedestal it stands on is a giant block of solid concrete – the largest ever poured, at the time – and was so expensive and took so long to build that it became a local political issue (“Why are we spending so much for something that’s a gift?”). Locals, notably Pulitzer, ran fundraising campaigns to get the money to finish it.
- At the time it was built, “liberty” was a controversial concept, associated with violence and revolution, and the designers were very concerned about making sure the statue looked peaceful.
And there you have more information than you ever cared to know about the Statue Of Liberty.
We didn’t buy tickets to go up into the crown: we didn’t think it was worth the money, didn’t think we had time, didn’t really care, and also they were sold out. Out tickets did allow us to the top of the pedestal, but since the elevator was broken, we had to climb the stairs: 156 of them, according to the sign. Getting to the crown would have been about another 200.
There’s not much else to say about that. It’s a big statue. You look at it, climb the pedestal, snap all the same pictures as everyone else, and leave. Next stop: Ellis Island. Once again, we had perfect timing: we just barely made it onto the boat before it was full, so we had no wait at all.
The immigration buildings on Ellis Island were in use for about 80 years or so, if I remember correctly, and then abandoned. They decayed for a while, and then were turned into a historic site and restored. It’s now a museum talking about immigration to the US. It’s much the same as Pier 21 in Halifax, though frankly, I think Pier 21 was a nicer place to visit. There were two things that stand out: the “registration hall” (I think was the name) is a huge, beautiful room that was worth seeing, and the 45-minute movie that you can watch was really well done. It talks about everything from the perspective of an early-20th-century immigrant traveling in third-class (steerage), starting from the time they leave their home country, and then walking through arrival in the US and what would happen at Ellis Island, ending when they (hopefully) left the island and landed on the mainland.
Rather surprisingly, we had perfect timing yet again for our third ferry ride, and no wait. The whole island visit took longer than we expected, though: we finally landed back on the mainland at around 3:30. Visiting these islands is a remarkable bargain: we each got the three ferry rides, admission to both museums (including the movie at Ellis Island), and access to the Statue of Liberty pedestal, all on a single $12 ticket. If you’ve got the time, and are at all interested in history, it’s a no-brainer.
What we didn’t do, is, we didn’t spend much time in the Wall Street area, and we didn’t visit the World Trade Center site. But we were tired, and hungry, and we didn’t yet have any plans for tomorrow, so we decided to call it a day. On our way out of the park, we saw something that we didn’t even know existed: “The Sphere”. It’s a bronze sculpture that used to be on the site of the World Trace Center. It was damaged in the September 11th attacks, and was transferred, in its rather beaten-up condition, to Battery Park as a memorial. Wikipedia tells me that it has become “a major tourist attraction”. When we saw it today, it was surrounded by a bunch of American flags labeled “Flag of Honor`- our guess is that this was related to the upcoming ninth anniversary of the attacks on Saturday.
As a final “adventure”, we decided to take the subway home. It looked convenient, and cheaper than a cab. We ended up passing the “raging bull” statue on Wall Street (which was totally mobbed by tourists) on the way to the station. The subway was uneventful (though we were a little concerned that we might have gotten on one going the wrong direction), and we’re just hanging out in the hotel room now. We might go out for a late-night snack later on…or not. We’ll see.