May 8th, 2009

Spain

Climbing Liberty

I climbed to the crown of the Statue of Liberty once.

Once was enough, believe me. The interior of the statue is stifling and hot, the winding metal steps are narrow and steep, and you're in a long line of people, with someone on the step ahead of you and someone on the step behind. And once you reached the top, well, the inside of Lady Liberty's head is pretty cramped as well, and the windows are thick and pitted and do not actually offer that great a view.

It's not an experience I am eager to repeat...



Nonetheless, I am glad I did it, and I want others to have the chance to do it too. Which is why I was heartened today by the announcement that the Obama administration is once again opening Lady Liberty to visitors.

George W. Bush had, of course, closed the monument after 9/11 (visitors were still allowed on Liberty Island and could tour the museum in the statue's base, but were not allowed inside the lady herself), citing possible terrorist attacks as the reason. Was that a danger? To some extent, sure. I have no doubt that Osama bin Laden would love to destroy the Statue of Liberty. But closing the statue was not the answer. It was, in fact, an act of cowardice, "letting the terrorists win." Being able to climb up inside the Statue of Liberty is not, of course, a fundamental right like freedom of speech or freedom of religion... but it was something cool that many generations of Americans had been able to enjoy, and having it taken away "to keep us safe" always galled me.

And now it's back. Hurrah, hurrah.



My mother, a child of another era, first visited Lady Liberty at a time when tourists were still allowed to climb up into her torch. Now THAT would be cool. Unlike the crown, the torch is open air, so the views would be spectacular. But the torch was closed to the public long before I first got to Liberty Island in the 50s. These days, I understand, no one goes up there but Superman... and the park rangers stationed at the monument, who rumor tells us like to climb up there to make out.