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  • Writer's pictureMark Vogel

My Trip to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island: A Comprehensive Guide

New York City

The Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty

If you are visiting New York City on a tight budget or are short on time, you can take the free Staten Island Ferry to get a closer look at the Statue of Liberty. However, if you have a few hours to spare, you most definitely should visit two iconic landmarks, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. I’ll share my experience in this guide for those interested in touring these historical sites.

Getting There: Ferry Ride from Lower Manhattan

My journey began with a ferry ride from Lower Manhattan. En route to the Statue of Liberty, the New York City skyline presented an impressive backdrop. The weather was sunny yet chilly.

First Stop: The Statue of Liberty

Arriving at Liberty Island, the Statue of Liberty, a gift from France, stands as a symbol of freedom and democracy. During an elementary school trip, I climbed the spiral staircase to the crown. Post-9/11, visitors were limited to the pedestal area for safety reasons. Today, visitors can explore the pedestal, the museum inside it, and the grounds. While access to the crown requires advanced reservations due to limited space, it provides a unique view of New York Harbor.

The Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty

“The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are not just tourist destinations but symbols of hope and new beginnings. They offer a profound understanding of America's diverse heritage and the struggles and dreams of those who sought a new life in a new world.”

History and Construction

The statue was a gift from France, commemorating the centennial of America's independence and a symbol of friendship. Raising money for the statue was a joint effort. The French funded the statue, while Americans financed the pedestal through fundraising campaigns.

The statue was designed by French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi. Its metal framework was built by Gustave Eiffel, the same engineer who designed the Eiffel Tower. The statue was constructed in France and shipped to the United States in pieces. After its arrival, the statue was assembled on Liberty Island (formerly Bedloe's Island) in New York Harbor. It was dedicated on October 28, 1886.

The Statue of Liberty stands about 151 feet tall from the base to the torch, with a total height of approximately 305 feet if measured from the ground level to the torch tip. Inside, there is a framework of iron piers supporting the copper skin. The statue’s copper exterior has turned green over time due to oxidation.

Statue of Liberty
Statue of Liberty

Over the years, the statue has undergone several renovations and restorations to preserve its structure and appearance. The most significant restoration occurred between 1984 and 1986, in time for its centennial celebration.

The statue depicts Libertas, a Roman liberty goddess. She holds a torch above her head with her right hand, and in her left hand, she holds a tabula ansata tablet inscribed with the date of the American Declaration of Independence. The statue is closely associated with "The New Colossus," a sonnet by Emma Lazarus, engraved on a bronze plaque, symbolizing the statue as a welcoming mother to incoming immigrants.

Each aspect of the statue holds symbolic meaning. The seven spikes on the crown represent the seven continents and seven seas. The broken shackles at her feet symbolize the end of oppression and tyranny. The 25 windows in the crown signify gemstones found on the earth and the heaven's rays shining over the world.

In 1984, the Statue of Liberty was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its significance as a masterpiece of human creativity and as a symbol of the idea of liberty. The statue has been featured in numerous films, books, and other media, becoming a universally recognized symbol of freedom and democracy.

The Statue of Liberty remains an enduring symbol not only for Americans but for people around the world, representing hope, freedom, and the pursuit of a better life. Visiting the Statue of Liberty offers a powerful reminder of the ideals upon which the United States was founded, and its ongoing relevance in the modern world.

Ellis Island
Ellis Island

Next Stop: Ellis Island

A short ferry ride took me to Ellis Island, which now operates as a museum. The museum displays artifacts, photographs, and interactive exhibits and offers insights into the journeys of the immigrants who came through Ellis Island.

Ellis Island operated as the nation's busiest immigrant inspection station from 1892 to 1954. Over 12 million immigrants passed through its facilities during that time, making it a crucial entry point for those seeking a new life in the United States.

Immigrants arriving at Ellis Island underwent a thorough medical and legal inspection process. This process determined whether they were fit to enter the U.S. or would be sent back to their home countries. The Great Hall was the main inspection area.

View of Statue of Liberty from Ellis Island
View of Statue of Liberty from Ellis Island

The peak years of operation were between 1892 and 1924. Immigrants came from all over the world, with the majority from Europe, including Italians, Irish, Germans, Eastern Europeans, and others. The station closed in 1954 as immigration patterns and policies changed. After its closure, Ellis Island fell into disrepair until efforts were made to restore and preserve it.

The Ellis Island Immigration Museum, part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument, opened in 1990. It offers visitors a detailed look at the immigrant experience through exhibits, personal narratives, and original artifacts. The American Family Immigration History Center, located within the museum, provides access to immigrant arrival records. Visitors can search for information about their ancestors or other immigrants who passed through Ellis Island.

The Save Ellis Island Foundation works to restore the 29 buildings on Ellis Island that are not part of the museum, to preserve this important part of American history. The museum offers educational programs and guided tours, providing insights into the challenges, processes, and stories of those who passed through its doors.

View of Statue of Liberty from Ellis Island
View of Statue of Liberty from Ellis Island

Ellis Island remains a powerful symbol in American culture, representing the diverse roots of the American people and the shared experiences of those who came to the United States seeking a new beginning.

Ellis Island is more than just a museum; it's a symbol of America's immigrant heritage. The island represents hope, opportunity, and the challenges faced by immigrants past and present. Visiting Ellis Island offers a poignant reminder of the complex history of immigration in the United States and provides a tangible connection to the experiences of millions of immigrants who helped shape the nation.

Returning to Lower Manhattan, I reflected on the immense historical significance of these two landmarks. The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are not just tourist destinations but symbols of hope and new beginnings. They offer a profound understanding of America's diverse heritage and the struggles and dreams of those who sought a new life in a new world.


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