Come for Liberty

During the middle of the 19th century and similarly in the 20th, there were episodes of mass migration around the world. And the reasons were plenty. War, Famine, Disease, Poverty, these were some of the main reasons that drove people to uproot and leave their home in search of a new one.

America, the land of the free it was advertised was to prove to be true for many.

NYC Liberty island8
The oldest photo we’ve got to emphasize what they would have seen!

Between 1850 till 1950, a total of 37 million migrants came into the US (statistics recorded since 1820-2015 stands at 81 million). A large majority of them came through port cities like NYC. Imagine the vast number of ships (planes could not have done this) coming to port every day carrying with them “the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”. Or so we paraphrase what was inscribed on the plaque at the base of the statue of you know who.

As the horns sound of approach, what must the masses gathered around the decks have seen but

A beacon of shining light

Sailing past Liberty 2
Boat sailing past, apt indeed

You all remember who gave the statue of liberty to the US right? France. Remember? Many legends surround how the idea came about, the interesting thing is how the location of then Bedlow island was selected as the site. You will see from the map that the island is situated in such a way that ships coming into harbor in NYC will have to sail pass it.

We are not going to delve into how the design came about. Rather, we will skip forward to its dedication in 1886 and the fact it was a copper colored statue at that time. Over the course of time as copper oxidized the current greenish patina that is the iconic color of the statue was born. But can you imagine it being shiny and reflective at the time it was first constructed?

On our first visit, we stood by the Battery park waiting in line very early in the morning patiently to board the ferry. On our next, we embarked from liberty state park.

It would be quick ride, about 20 minutes and we disembarked on the island for our own exploration. Well, you have to be early. The queue for the ferry was already very long when we got there… and we WERE early – before 8am. Buy your tickets first and then join the queue. That would be rather useful!

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There is a fixed schedule if you look at the boards, but some days the crowds are so large that it was not following time… It is always better to come earlier in the day (seems to be the same anywhere these days).

The Empty ferry1
Come early, ferry’s roomier

Before you get on the ferry, you first need to get through an airport style security scan of your personal belongings. Did not have this well back 20 years ago! Then it is time to board the ferry, for us to explore Liberty island and Ellis island. The ride took us past the beautiful skyline of lower Manhattan. The ferry has two decks (and three for those serving the battery park stop). They both have indoor seating, so you do not need to burn in the summer sun.

NYC Liberty island13
It was a long climb

The highlight of visiting liberty island has got to be climbing up the Statue! Now back in the day there was no requirement to book ahead. Today though, one has to book online in advanced or experience a very long wait at the foot of the pedestal – and with no guarantees of getting in!

NYC Liberty island14
But the windows were not clear!

We, having visited once a long time back were privileged to just join the queue and climb. After winding up many flights of stairs, you will be confronted by a row of windows (at the crown of the statue). Not really impressive, the windows probably need a little cleaning…but the bucket list was ticked and photos to prove it too.

NYC Liberty island19
Pre 9-11 skyline

Like we said it was a the queue and it runs long, meaning you have less than a few minutes to take you photos and leave… Not nice to face someone’s shoes or you know where too long eh? Having completed the grueling climb, it was time to get down for a breather – and walk along the shores of the island. The views afforded from Liberty island is nice – that’s Suan with NYC in the background, the WTC standing out so prominently back in 1997 but today it is no more.

Declared a national monument in 1924, in 1933, this island was given over to the National Parks. Did you know?

  • Liberty’s Height is 46m
  • The Height of her hand is 5m
  • She holds a tablet with a length of ~7.19m and ~4.14m wide
  • The foundation pedestal itself is 93m in height!

Hard work getting through

Ellis island on he other hand started to be the US’s main immigration gateway from 1892 until 1954. It is said that more than 40% of present day Americans can be traced from people who came through here. During those years a total of 24 million folks migrated to the US with most via this island. Just think about it for a minute. To process this number of people the island must have facilities. And it has. The island has hospitals too, all to examine migrants…perform quarantine etc.

Ellis Island museum10
Roll of Honor of family names

Today at the heritage center, one can see many folks tracing relatives who came through here. Remember the initial statistics we said earlier? There are also museums showcasing the history of immigration to the US. And the surnames of the migrants are engraved in a roll of honor on the island too.

History: might you not have wondered what this island was before? Well prior to being a immigrant station, the island was a military fort replete with a 20-gun battery. It was one of the fortifications defending the bay of New York. Actually, from 1924 the island became a deportation and detention centre as well. Hard to imagine eh? During WWII, it was an obvious place for axis nationals to be held, as were communists and fascist during the early 1950s at the height of the phobia against the influence of the Soviets.

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Our first visit was all a blur, since we were so fixated with liberty island. But on a separate occasion we drove and parked at Liberty State Park ferry point instead. The view here is different from Battery park for there is a walkway along the waterfront facing the Hudson river that many people are strolling, cycling and jogging in the morning. This area was said to have been tidal flats with oyster banks, that with land filling, it would become reclaimed land.

Nearby is the CRRNJ terminal where the ticketing office is located. Abandoned in 1967, it is now cordoned off. An adult ticket costs US$18pp and is valid for “unlimited” rides on the ferries that ply between our starting point to Ellis island, Liberty island and even to Battery Park on Manhattan.

Why we came here for was the great view of both Ellis island or the NY skyline. When we walked further up, we came up to Ellis island bridge which is not open to the public.

Ellis Island Bridge1
No free walk to Ellis island!

Unfortunately there would be no free walk over without the ferry!

Experience liberty

Coming to NYC and not having touched both liberty and Ellis islands nor see lady liberty up close could be said as not having come at all.

And we mean this in a good way.

For the city that never sleeps was also a gateway which welcomed many. So many that today the nation that is the US have been fashioned via this melt pot into something that no other country can easily emulate. Find out why when you come here. It might bring tears to your eyes.

This is a compilation of our various visits to the bastions of liberty

Getting around Ellis and Liberty Map

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