…Continued from Part II:
The Statue Of Liberty – In 1865, French intellectuals decided to honor the ideals of freedom and liberty with a symbolic gift to the United States to reflect the relationship France and United States had built during the US Revolution. France would design and construct a colossus statue, paid by generous donations; US would design, pay for and construct the pedestal. Lady Liberty dazzled Parisians as it was being constructed, often proclaiming it to be the “8th wonder of the world”. At its 1886 debut it was the tallest structure in New York City, and tallest Statue in the world. Lady Liberty was a beacon of hope to those who traveled great distances to make a better life. Throughout its existence, repairs, upgrades and maintenance were required – elevators were added, and additional support was added. It was closed to visitors after 9/11, reopening in 2004. Starting 2009, the viewing platform in the Crown reopened as well.
Getting to Statue of Liberty is easy. You can buy the ticket online for the ferry to Liberty Island and Ellis Island. There are three ticket types: Transport to the island, Pedestal tour & museum, and Crown tour & museum (the latter two also include the ferry ride). Once you arrive at Battery Park, you will need to have your ticket and go through airport style security. The boats are frequent. Our ticket time was for 11AM, and by the time we got through security and on the boat it had been about 15 minutes. You can buy a ticket in person, but risk having it sell out and waiting in a long line. If purchased online, you will get a set time to arrive and go through security without the wait. Steve and I opted for the Pedestal tickets. This allowed us to go up to the base of Lady Liberty as well as access the museum inside. Not everyone did this option, in which case you exit the boat and walk around the island – still getting great views of Manhattan and the statue. We wanted the Crown tickets, however, they sell out months in advance. If you know your date of travel, book early. We were happy with our choice – the views are spectacular, and the museum had everything you wanted to know about the Statue of Liberty.
Ellis Island – Millions of Americans today can trace their ancestors back to their arrival at Ellis Island – including Steve and I. People trying to escape religious persecution, political strife, and unemployment sought refuge in a land where anything was possible. Upon their arrival, immigrants were asked a series of questions by inspectors. Those who passed were allowed through to: buy rail tickets, meet family or perhaps stay in New York. About 20% were held back for further medical or legal examination. Overall, about 2% were denied entry and forced to return to their country of origin. During the years Ellis Island operated from 1892 to 1954, 12 million people passed through it’s doors.
We had read online on several sites to allow two hours for your visit. We ended up visiting for 3 hours and had to leave because it was closing. We could’ve easily spent 1-2 more hours there. They have numerous exhibits on the history of immigration in the US, stories from the people who lived it, and immigration today. You can also view the rooms where people were inspected, slept, given medical examinations and immigration hearings. For $7 you can access their computers to look up your family for up to 30 minutes, you can also do it online. Outside there is a wall dedicated to those who passed through Ellis Island. We have already decided we need to return to see everything we ran out of time to see. It touches my heart to see the very place that my Grandmother first set foot in America.
African Burial Ground National Monument – In 1991 during the early construction phase of a federal building, workers found human remains. Over two years 419 skeletal remains were recovered from the ground. Through protests, petitions, and 24 hour vigils, Congress acted to temporally stop construction until further studies could be done. All the remains were sent to Howard University for study. The ground itself was determined to be an African American burial ground. In the 1700s, colonial laws made it illegal to have funerals for slaves. Enslaved Africans were not allowed to gather in more than groups of 12, or after sunset. Even with these rules, burials were done with dignity and followed many African traditions. Those buried were placed in individual coffins with heads toward the West (so they faced East when they arose in the afterlife). Coins covered eyes. Many were buried with objects such a buttons, jewelry, and shells. The burial ground was closed in 1790 and the land was sold to businesses, not to be found until 1991. In 2003 all 419 remains were placed in mahogany coffins from Ghana that were hand-carved and lined with Kente cloth and reburied very near their original spot. Today, you can see the 7 earthen mounds that mark the site of their burial. In 2006, the monument made its debut.
The monument is peaceful, and crafted with such thought. It is orientated in an east-west axis, similar to how the bodies are buried. The visitor center has a lot to explore. With exhibits, artifacts and hands on displays ranging from the history of slaves to the studies on the bones found – you will find spending 1-2 hours here is time well spent. Be aware there is airport style security. The visitor center is free and though small, absolutely worth exploring.
Castle Clinton National Monument – This National Monument is located next to the Statue of Liberty ferry, and is where you buy your tickets for the ferry. Spend the 15-20 minutes to explore this old fort. Castle Clinton was one of 5 forts built to protect New York City during the War of 1812. At the time, it was on an island just off the southern tip of Manhattan. By 1824, changes in naval guns and relations with European powers made the fort obsolete. It was at this time New York City was transitioning to a world metropolis and the need for public venues for concert and events led to Castle Clinton to become Castle Garden. Many events were held here, such as operas, invention shows, and circuses. In 1855, landfill was used to make it part of mainland Manhattan, and due to the increase in immigration, it became the new Immigration center until Ellis Island opened. Soon after it became the Aquarium for New York City, seeing 30,000 people on its opening day. In 1946, the National Park Service bought it and restored it to the original Fort appearance.
There aren’t much actual pieces of the Fort still intact, except for some of the bricks. Your visit here will be short. There is a small exhibit hall about Castle Clinton’s transformation, as well as exhibits about its importance during the time as a fort. Although it never saw action as a fort, the 5 forts served their purpose by deterring British forces from attacking New York City.
Federal Hall National Memorial – Famously known as the place where George Washington was sworn in as the first President of the United States on April 30, 1789 – this building has served many purposes. Originally built in 1703, it had been used by the Royal governor’s council and the assembly of New York, and New York City Hall prior to becoming the nation’s first capital. After the capital moved to Washington DC, Federal Hall was demolished in 1812 and rebuilt to its current state and was used as a Federal Sub-Treasury until 1920.
Walking in, you are taken back by the beauty of the rotunda. There are several rooms with artifacts from the building. One in particular is the Bible on which George Washington was sworn in as the first President of the United States. We also got an opportunity to look in the vault where at one time over $2,000,000 was stored there. Federal Hall is right next to the famous Wall Street building, and open on weekdays. If you are visiting Wall Street, give yourself 1-2 hours to check this place out.
St. Paul’s Chapel – Opening its doors in 1766, this church is the oldest in Manhattan. It is here that George Washington attended mass during his presidency, where Ground Zero recovery workers were fed and cared for by volunteers, and place where thousands set up photos and posters looking for lost ones after the attacks on 9/11. I love how beautiful churches can be, but this one hit me particularly hard. It was beautiful in its simplify. With few decorations on the walls, no stained glass, your eyes our drawn to the altar. The “Glory” altarpiece was designed by Pierre L’Enfant – who was also the designer for Washington DC. There are 14 original cut-glass chandeliers hanging above. On one wall is the seal of the United States, indicating where George Washington’s pew was. They have a small room dedicated to the efforts made during the recovery at Ground Zero, with pictures and letters honoring ones who were lost on that day. This was just a preview of the emotion I was going to feel upon entering the 9/11 museum. The church is located just a few blocks from the World Trade Center, and should be on your list of things to see.
9/11 Memorial & Museum – I have been dreading about writing this piece. I won’t go into the details of the history; you can find that online. The memorial consists of two giant holes where the Towers once stood. Water cascades down all sides into each hole from underneath plaques surrounding their circumferences. These plaques contain the names of all the victims cut into them (including those from the first attack on the Towers in 1993). The staff puts beautiful white roses on the names when it’s their birthday. The museum was respectfully done and approached the situation very factually. There are many objects from that day including destroyed fire trucks, parts of the Towers, and the final steel support column removed from Ground Zero during the clean-up The entire museum is constructed below where the Towers once stood and the Memorial now is. You can see parts of the original foundation preserved everywhere. Included with the presented facts, there is video, audio, and other visuals that many people find disturbing. I haven’t felt this emotional in a museum since I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. The museum has plenty of tissues at hand for those who need it. For me, watching video of jumpers and listening to phone calls of people on one of the planes or inside the World Trade Center really took a toll on me. I don’t want to discourage people from going, quite the opposite, I think if you are in NYC you should go, if only to remember and honor those who lost their lives that day. Just be prepared for an emotional journey.
We are now international!! Stay tuned for upcoming posts from Colombia!