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It is odd that there are times when you live somewhere and don’t take advantage of the things right on your doorstep. For us, that is true of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
We had lived in Westchester County, near White Plains for 5-years. From there it was only a short ride into Manhattan. Of course, we’d seen the Statue of Liberty from Battery Park in Lower Manhattan and also from the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. Heck, we’d even been right by it on a ferry from Staton Island. But, we’d never actually set foot on Liberty Island. So, it was time to get that right!
Getting to Liberty Island
Both Liberty and Ellis Islands are run by the National Park Service and are free to get in, but first, you need to get to them! The boats that run to the Islands are operated by Statue City Cruises, whose boats leave from Battery Park in Lower Manhattan and from Liberty State Park in New Jersey. You can buy a general admission ticket which covers the ride to Liberty and Ellis Islands and the audio tour. For an additional cost, they also provide tickets to the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal and a ‘behind the scenes’ on tour on Ellis Island.
We went in the middle of July, which is peak tourist season, so we made sure we got our tickets online early. I also wanted to make sure we avoided the heat of the day (& the crowds to some degree) so I booked us on the first ferry. 5 million people visit the Statue of Liberty every year, making it one of the most popular tourist attractions in the USA. You only need to book your outward journey time, from the islands you can catch any ferry.
There is heightened security at the Ferry Terminals, so don’t cut it too fine to get there. We made sure we were very early, so we got to the front of the security check line and on to the boat to get our preferred seats.
So, once onboard, it was time to sit back, relax and enjoy the short journey out to Liberty Island. As we pulled away from the dock at Battery Park we were treated to some spectacular views of the Lower Manhattan skyline.
From a distance the Statue of Liberty looks dinky, but you get closer you can see how large and magnificent it truly is. The robed figure of the Statue of Liberty is modelled after Libertas, the Roman Goddess of Freedom.
We were very lucky to have a bluebird day for our trip and so we were able to get some great photos of Lady Liberty as we approached the Island. Originally, the island was called Bedloe Island, and in 1956 it was re-named as Liberty Island.
As we left the boat we collected our audio tour headset and device. It is hard to take your eyes off the Statue of Liberty. It is humongous! From the base of the pedestal to the tip of the torch, the statue stands at a massive height of 305 feet and 6 inches. Barring the pedestal, the height of the statue itself is 111 feet, 6 inches with an enormous 35 feet waistline. Lady Statue of Liberty wears size 879 sandals, each of her sandals are 25 feet (7.6 metres) long.
It is also very heavy. In total, the statue weighs around 225 tons (or 204,100 kilograms).
We thought we would go to the museum first before the crowds arrived. We found the museum fascinating. It covered the history and incredible effort to design and construct this icon of America.
The statue was a brainchild of Edouard de Laboulaye who only proposed that France should gift this statue to the United States as a celebration of both the union’s victory in the American Revolution and the abolition of slavery. He also believed that the Statue of Liberty will inspire the French people in their contemporary struggle for democracy against the tyranny of Napolean III.
French sculptor Auguste Bartholdi was commissioned to design and build the statue. Around 350 individual pieces of the statue had to be packed into 214 crates and then shipped to New York. He had a large team, including Gustav Eiffel, the designer of the Eiffel Tower, who worked long hours daily for nine years to complete the massive statue. Work on the Statue of Liberty finished in the year 1884.
Many believe that the Statue of Liberty was a gift by the French government. This is not true.
Auguste Bartholdi had initially presented the Lady Liberty idea to Egypt. He wanted the statue to guard the newly-opened Suez Canal in Egypt, welcoming ships into the mouth of Egypt’s groundbreaking canal.
Once the Egyptians rejected the statue Bartholdi offered it to the Americans. In addition to New York, Boston and Philadelphia were interested in the statue for their cities. Its construction and shipping were entirely privately funded by both the French and the American citizens. All of this was from individual donors. More than 80 per cent of this $102,000 was in one-dollar contributions.
While the French were fine with funding the Statue, the French requested the Americans to fund the pedestal. To help the Americans raise funds for the pedestal, the arm and torch were shipped over earlier to be displayed at an exposition in Philadelphia. As per an article published in 1885 in a New York-based newspaper, the sum of $102,000 was raised to construct the Statue of Liberty.
The pieces were then taken to New York and kept in Madison Square Park. Despite attracting a lot of people, the fundraising wasn’t a success. That’s when newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer stepped in and used the reach of his newspaper to raise funds. The head of the statue was exhibited at World’s Fair in Paris back in the year 1878 to help the fundraising.
From the museum, we headed outside. The audio guide takes you to several places that follow the trail that circles the Statue of Liberty. You get some fantastic views of the Statue as you wander around the grounds of Liberty Island.
We spent about 90-minutes on Liberty Island, which felt a good amount of time. So, we dropped off our audio equipment and jumped on the ferry to Ellis Island.
From 1892 to 1924, Ellis Island was America’s largest and most active immigration station, where over 12 million immigrants were processed. On average, the inspection process took approximately 3-7 hours. For the vast majority of immigrants, Ellis Island truly was an “Island of Hope” – the first stop on their way to new opportunities and experiences in America. For the rest, it became the “Island of Tears” – a place where families were separated and individuals were denied entry into the United States.
Most immigrants entered the United States through New York Harbor, although there were other ports of entry in cities such as Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, San Francisco, and New Orleans. First and second class passengers arriving in New York Harbor were not required to undergo the inspection process at Ellis Island. Instead, these passengers received a cursory inspection aboard the ship; theory being that if a person could afford to purchase a first or second class ticket they were affluent and less likely to become a public charge in America due to medical or legal reasons. However, regardless of class, sick passengers or those with legal problems were sent to Ellis Island for further inspection.
The inspections took place in the Registry Room (Great Hall) where doctors would briefly scan every individual for obvious physical ailments. Doctors at Ellis Island soon became very adept at conducting these “six-second physicals.” By 1916, it was said that a doctor could identify numerous medical conditions (ranging from anaemia to trachoma) by simply glancing at a person.
Despite the island’s reputation as an “Island of Tears” the vast majority of immigrants were treated courteously and respectfully, free to begin their new lives in America after only a few short hours on Ellis Island. Only two percent of the arriving immigrants were excluded from entry. The two main reasons for exclusion were a doctor diagnosing an immigrant with a contagious disease that could endanger public health, or a legal inspector was concerned an immigrant would likely become a public charge or an illegal contract labourer.
You can tour Ellis Island with a private tour guide, or like most people, including us, you can take the self-guided audio tour.
The audio tour starts, where everything started for the immigrants, in the Registry Room. From here the tour takes you through a number of rooms that have display panels telling the stories of the immigrants as they passed through Ellis Island, particularly the two per cent who were not given immediate access to the United States.
Those who were sick could end up in the large hospital on the island and those who were deemed to be a legally liable risk would have their case judged in the court that sat on the Island.
Beyond the immigrant stories there is a second part of the tour that talks about the impact of immigration on America and how different immigrant groups were received and treated.
Planning your visit to Liberty & Ellis Islands
To get to Battery Park
By train, take the 1 or 9 train to the South Ferry station, 4 or 5 train to the Bowling Green station, or the N or R train to the Whitehall Street station.
By bus, take the M15 (East Side) marked “South Ferry” or the M6 (West Side) from 57th Street.
By car, take the East Side Drive (FDR Drive) south to Battery Park and State Street or the West Side Highway/West Street/Route 9A south to Battery Place. Privately operated parking lots are located along West Street and South Street (beneath the FDR Drive). Parking is limited so arrive early or take public transportation.
To get to Liberty State Park and Jersey City
By bus, take the Central Avenue bus from platform A3 at the Journal Square Terminal in Jersey City to Liberty State Park.
By car, take the New Jersey Turnpike to exit 14B. There is ample parking available in Liberty State Park for a fee.
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The ferries, which leave from Battery Park in Manhattan and Liberty State Park in New Jersey, operate 7 days a week, from approximately 9:30am to 5:00pm. For ferry schedule and information, call 212-269-5755 or visit www.statuecruises.com
The round trip fare on the ferry, which includes admission to both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, is $18 for adults, $14 for senior citizens, $9 for children 4-12 years old, and free to children 3 and under. visit www.statuecruises.com
In summary …
- It will take about 1/2 a day to visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
- Entry to Liberty and Ellis Islands is free but you need to pay for the ferry to get there
- Both Liberty and Ellis Island are operated by the National Park Service, so there are Park Rangers on hand for information
- The audio tours are excellent and well worth doing!
- Book tickets online and during the summer peak season try to be on the first ferry to avoid the crowds and the heat. Also, there can be afternoon storms in the summer months. In winter the problem is the cold!
Best time to visit New York City
Fall and spring are considered by tourists and locals as the best times to visit, and you can expect pleasant temperatures to reign in the months from April to June and September until November. However, the best times of year to visit New York City for warm-weather activities are from mid-June to July and from early August to the end of September.
Other things to do whilst in New York City
1. BRONX ZOO
The Bronx Zoo is a zoo within Bronx Park in the Bronx, New York. It is one of the largest zoos in the United States by area and is the largest metropolitan zoo in the United States by area, comprising 265 acres of parklands and naturalistic habitats separated by the Bronx River.
It is a great place to spend the day with your family, or indeed on your own. The highlights for us are the Congo Gorilla exhibit, JungleWorld, Madagascar and the Wild Asia Monorail.
2. NEW YORK BOTANICAL GARDENS
3. 9/11 MEMORIAL MUSEUM
The 9/11 Memorial Museum invites visitors to learn about the history of the 9/11 attacks and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing at the site where the Twin Towers once stood. The Museum’s dynamic blend of architecture, archaeology, and history creates an unforgettable encounter with the story of the attacks, their aftermath, and the people who experienced these events.
4. MUSEUM OF MODERN ART (MOMA)
The New York Museum of Art was established in 1929 with an initial gift of eight prints and one drawing. Today, the collection has grown to approximately 200,000 paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, media and performance artworks; including works from the greatest contemporary artists, including Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, Dalí, Warhol, Hockney and Pollock to name but a few.
5. CENTRAL PARK
Central Park is one of the most recognisable parts of New York City anyone who has seen TV series or films made in New York will be familiar with many of its features. It is not just a place for visitors to the city to wander it is also a playground for New Yorkers to come and escape the concrete and brick of the city.
Where to stay in New York City
1. ELEMENT TIMES SQUARE
During our visit to New York, we stayed in the Element hotel which is in the Hells Kitchen district. For us, it was perfectly located and was only a 5-minute walk to Times Square. It was also very close to several metro stations and the main bus terminal. We were feeling a bit stingy and cautious due to the Covid-19 pandemic so we decided to walk from Penn Station to the hotel, which only took us 10-minutes, hauling our luggage.
The room was good, we had a little kitchenette and there were pots, pans, plates and silverware, so we were self-contained. We were lucky enough to be on one of the higher floors, so we had a view. It was also possible to see the Empire State building.
Breakfast is included but nothing to write home about, but there are plenty of places to eat in the area so it was not a problem for us.
2. YOTEL NEW YORK
3. FREEHAND HOTEL
Freehand is located in the former George Washington hotel, known as the home of many artists, and it has maintained its creative spirit. It has a partnership with Bard College and many artists take an active part in designing the hotel and in shaping its cultural life. Freehand features five restaurants and bars, and elegantly designed rooms with private bathrooms. The rooms sleep up to 6 people.
It is located on Lexington Avenue and in walking distance of Union Square, Midtown and Flatiron.