Editors note: Monday, Oct. 28, marks the 133rd anniversary of the Statue of Libertys dedication by President Grover Cleveland.
By Nicholas Garrison
Recent arguments over immigration policy have stirred debate over the purpose and meaning of the Statue of Liberty. This has me asking: When is the last time anyone visited her? For even the most jaded, being there is to be awestruck. Her simple, transcendent message is easy to grasp hope for a better world, for all.
I wish everyone would visit the Statue of Liberty and feel the power of her unifying message.
She beckons us from her tiny, floating garden in the middle of the Hudson River, rising symbolically atop a fort built to defend a young nation. One cant just go to Liberty Island one must cross over to her by ferry a pilgrimage. As we approach, facing the sun, Liberty Enlightening the World is spectacular. Ashore she emerges from the trees, and her scale seems impossible. Everywhere the fort is flecked with her patina. Inside she is tiny; gleaming copper sheets are held fast by a giddy framework where the rivets seem to have rivets. Its not hard to see and feel a relentless energy in her softly folded construction, reinforcing the very ideas of freedom and liberty. She is amazing.
Ones thoughts go from the idea of her, to her construction, back to the idea of her: What compelled thousands of private citizens, oceans and cultures apart, to band together and overcome ridiculous obstacles of engineering, logistics and fundraising to achieve such a feat? Not ego or profit. Not tribal pride. Not even, really, the end of a terrible civil war. It was simply the impulse of a human heart to build a physical symbol as grand as the foundational idea of hope and opportunity America had come to represent for the world.
Her message endures. When I first started thinking about the design for a new museum for the Statue of Liberty, the parks superintendent, David Lusinger, told me that still today, there are visitors that get on their knees and kiss the ground she stands on. This vision would not leave me. During construction, workers and tradespeople from every background and political leaning worked together with obvious pride and dedication to the project, often bringing their children to the jobsite. One particularly nasty day I asked the construction superintendent, Larry Sidoti, if his crew was getting discouraged. Not at all he beamed, we love her.
These feelings are contagious on the island.
Adding to the statues spell, Liberty Island is magical on its own. Conceived as a formal garden around the star-shaped fort, it contains wide pedestrian walks and bosques of trees shading rolling lawns. An esplanade along the waters edge is both a promenade for voices from around the world and a lookout for New York Harbor. Breezes fan spectacular panoramic views of New Yorks skyline across the Hudson to where the twin towers once stood, and we are reminded just how powerful this message of hope and opportunity is, and how lucky we are to live here.
Tasked with conceiving the first new building on this small island, it was not lost on me that I was on sacred ground and that every square inch of it mattered. Like everyone else, I was smitten with my surroundings, and I dedicated myself to do the best work I could in the service of her. The effort to rescue the original torch from its dark location inside the fort and persist so that it was given pride of place in the new museum in full daylight overlooking New York Harbor, was a labor of true love.
As the exhibits make clear, we have always contested the idea of what liberty means to each of us as individuals, but the power of the Statue of Liberty to inspire us to be the best we can be is indisputable. We have never been perfect, but her dream is: a monumental dream of hope for a better world.
Go and feel inspired again.
Nicholas Garrison, a partner at the New York architecture firm FxCollaborative, is the architect of the newly opened Statue of Liberty Museum.
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