Visiting Liberty In New York

photo: statue of liberty, new york harbor

France's gift to the United States is still in good
shape and draws visitors even on cold days.

''I Lift My Lamp Beside the Golden Door''

New York City:- January 2003:- There I was a couple of weeks ago, flying across the Atlantic Ocean with a French airline in an American- built jet at 11,000 metres or 39,000 feet, thinking of all of this magazine's readers and the members of the Café Metropole Club who regularly do the same thing - without paying too much attention to all the somewhat bitter words making the transatlantic trip these days.

To get into the spirit of this particular trip I decided to use my Irish passport for entry into the United States, rather than the Canadian one. Last Easter when I was Paris-bound, I used the Irish one of course, and the lady checking me in at JFK airport wanted my 'green' card, which I didn't have because I didn't get one going in, using the other passport. She said, "You are supposed to tell 'them' you have two passports."

What was convenient for me didn't suit the airline lady, who was working part-time for US Immigration. So this time, I decided to be a visiting 'immigrant' from Europe. There were dire warnings about filling in the 'green' card wrong - 'You could be rejected!' - and I managed to botch it twice.

The immigration guy overlooked this, but was curious to see no stamps in the passport after I told him I had been to the USA in 2002. "It's because," I told him, "I used my Canadian passport."

He didn't say anything threatening, but he very deliberately stapled the 'leaving' part of the 'green' card into the Irish passport, and gave it a thumping rubber stamp for good measure. I decided not to ask for retroactive stamps for the 2001 and 2002 visits.

Another reason for being 'European' this time was because I decided to be on a mission to see the Statue of Liberty - well-known in France, where it was made as 'Liberté éclairant le monde.' It was in fact, made right around the corner from where I live, in an atelier off the Avenue Général Leclerc.

The sculptor was Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, who also did our very own local 'Lion de Belfort' in 1880photo: ellis island immigration museum which is sitting at Denfert. The McDonald's on the avenue is also decorated in homage to Bartholdi - without, of course, mentioning that Vladimir Illyich Ulyanov - known to all as Comrade Lenin - used to hang out at the Café du Lion at number five on the avenue across the street.

The Ellis Island reception center for one-way travellers from Europe.

The idea to make 'Liberty' a gift to the United States was dreamed up in 1865 by some French talking heads, led by Edouard de Laboulaye, as sort of a political statement of what they thought of politics in France at the time.

Meanwhile, in the United States, the Civil War was over and slavery was abolished, and there were ten years to go until the first centennial of the American republic. The public in France willingly contributed to the cost of building the monumental statue. Bartholdi selected the port of New York for the statue's location in 1874.

For the 1876 centennial, Liberty's arm and torch were displayed at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. A year later the US Congress approved the site for the statue, but authorized no money for it. Americans, led by Joesph Pulitzer, had to donate money to pay for the passage of America's most famous immigrant, and to build its pedestal.

Gustave Eiffel designed the statue's steel skeleton in 1879, while Bartholdi oversaw the making of the glazed molds for it. The final pieces where cast in thin copper sections at the Monduit and Béchet foundry in the Rue Chazelles. A few years earlier the same foundry rebuilt the Vendôme column which had been knocked down in 1871.

The statue was handed over to the United States on Friday, 4. July 1884, but was not officially dedicated until Thursday, 28. October 1886, only ten years and some months late for the centennial.

But back in 1883, this did not deter Emma Lazarus from composing, "Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp! Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore; send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Now, you can as I did, go down to Battery Park at the tip of Manhattan and buy a ferry ticket at Castle Clinton, for a visit to both Bedloe's Island where the statue is located, and to Ellis Island, where the poor and huddled masses from 'ancient lands' were processed through immigration to the United States, from 1892 until the station was closed forever in 1954.

By watching channel 11's TV-weather news carefully, I chose Monday, 13. January for the trip. The sun was shining like it often does in New York in the winter, and the official temperature was above freezing, but there was a fair breeze on the water.

A good number of other brave people were on the voyage and some of them were on deck for some of it. The first stop was Bedloe's Island, but climbing up the inside of the statue - 354 steps! - is not a current option, so I didn't get off the ferry. A lot of other people did, while some who had seen nearly everything, reembarked.

The ferry then cruised around to Ellis Island and got there just as the sky became overcast. The main reception building did not look as forbidding as I had imagined it might. Nobody ever mentions that it is built to resemble a French 'renaissance-style.'

This is a fireproof version, opened in 1900, to replace the one built in 1892 that burned down in 1897. Immigrantsphoto: registration hall, ellis island in numbers began arriving, mostly from Europe, in the 1830s. From 1855 to 1890 arrivals were received at Castle Clinton. The 1862 Homestead Act allowed pretty free entry to the United States, and restrictions to immigrations didn't start until the 1870s.

The second-floor reception 'room' had eager millions pass through it, mostly before WWI.

During the 1880s, 5.7 million immigrants arrived in the United States. Steamship lines advertised low passage rates all over Europe, and 8.8 million immigrants arrived between 1901 and 1910, with 860,000 passing through Ellis Island in 1907 alone.

The record day was Wednesday, 17. April 1907 when 11,747 were processed. After the Revolution in 1776, there were about 5000 arrivals per year. In the early 1900s, this was Ellis Island's average per day. In total, about 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island

These had mainly travelled in 'steerage' and were brought from passenger ships by barges and ferries, while first and second-class passengers were speedily processed right on the ships they arrived on.

The ground floor of the elegant building was the baggage area, while the registry hall was on the second level. Ellis Island is now a museum and its exhibits begin on the second level. They show the route through the immigration inspection process mainly in the 'Through America's Gate' and 'Peak Immigration Years' areas.

Immigrants were given a health check-up and intelligence tests. These were designed for people who may not have been able to read or write their own languages. If they passed both exams they were asked how much money they had brought with them. The entry level was $25 and some lied about this because streets 'paved with gold' were not far off.

The refusal rate was about two percent, and these hopeless but mostly ill optimists got a free steamship ride in steerage back to where they started from.

About a third of the successfully 'landed' merely took the ferry to New York and went no further. Railway tickets to anywhere else could be purchased right at Ellis Island, and there were posters proclaiming the delights of Oklahoma and other rural outposts.

World War One brought with it a fear of 'enemy aliens,' and Ellis Island was used as a detention centre. More immigration restrictions were introduced after the war, and applications began to be handled by US Consulates abroad, starting in 1924.

After this Ellis Island was used more as a holding jail for deportations, and as a quarantine centre for new arrivals. The Ellis Island immigration center closed in November of 1954. It re-opened as a museum on 10. September 1990, coupled with the Statue of Liberty as a national monument, operated by the national parks service.

Outside the museum building on Ellis Island, there is an American Immigrant 'Wall of Honor' with about 600,000 names inscribed on it. Yours' may be on it too. Get to this by way of the museum's spacious cafeteria, which also has an outside terrace area for balmy days in the harbor - with a view of fabled Manhattan's skyline.

The main building on Ellis Island is not nearly as grim as I imagined it might be. Compared to the 'steerage' class of many of its applicants, and compared to much of America at the time, it was an elegant entry to the United States.

I found the exhibits to be fascinating. So many people with so much hope and no other choice except to start aphoto: on ferry to statue new life in the new world. Small wonder that with the passing of time, so many wander back to tired old Europe, to try and find what their ancestors left behind. Starting this at Ellis Island can not be the worst choice.

On the way to the Statue of Liberty, in New York's harbor.

The day was no warmer on the ferry back to Battery Park. There, the high buildings created their own extra windy climate. From the landing it is only a short scuttle through the park and past the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, to the nearest subway entrance right around the corner.

If your day has been cold, you might stop in this museum, to learn a little bit about the only people in America who never were immigrants.

Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island Immigration Museum - take the ferry from Battery Park or the Central Railroad Terminal in New Jersey's Liberty State Park. Tickets, which can be purchased at the Castle Clinton Monument, include visits to both sites. Closed on Christmas Day. InfoTel.: 212 363 32 00. [Within a short time you'll need to add an extra '1' to the beginning of the number. All New York City telephone numbers will be 11 digits soon.]

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