Liberty Island home to the Statue of Liberty might not be the first place most parents take their newborn right after being discharged from the hospital. But that was where Hal Clancy spent his first day out in the world, in 1955.
This wasnt a sightseeing journey, however. The infant was meeting his grandparents, who lived in one of the six residences then located on the 14.717-acre island that sits in the middle of New York Harbor.
Hals maternal grandfather, N.H. Foster, was the superintendent in charge of the New York City regions National Parks from the mid-1940s through the mid-60s and was stationed on the island. And Hals father, Captain George Clancy, drove the ferry that took visitors from lower Manhattan to Liberty.
I spent a lot of time there growing up, Hal told The Post. It seemed totally normal and it still does. I feel very at home on Liberty Island.
Hal is featured in Liberty: Mother of Exiles a new documentary, premiering on HBO Thursday about the building, marketing and history of Lady Liberty and the construction of the Statue of Liberty museum that opened in June. The film also profiles folks, such as Hal, with close ties to the statue, including the third-generation gift-shop operator and a man who worked on the reconstruction of the torch in the 1980s.
While directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato originally intended to document the museums birth, they quickly learned there were keepers of the statue.
It became clear very early on that the Statue of Liberty is the peoples statue whether it was people who lived on the island or the people who participated in the renovation of the torch, said Barbato. We discovered the stories of the statue.
And Hal certainly has his fair share of tales. When the tourists left the island at the end of the day, it became his personal playground.
He and his grandfather would climb the stairs inside the statue, with the older man stopping halfway up while Hal ascended to Lady Libertys crown where the two would communicate through the intercom system. He once changed a 1,000-watt light bulb (bigger than a softball, smaller than a basketball, Hal said) in the torch.
At night, hed fall asleep at his grandparents house to the toot toot of tugboats in the harbor.
I have a deep connection to Liberty Island and am very sentimental, Hal said. And the ferryboats are like a second home to me.
In fact, those ferryboats are why he exists.
His mother, Helene Foster, was a student at Columbia University when her father, N.H., first moved the family to Liberty Island. Every morning she would take the ferry to Manhattan island and back home at night. She caught the eye of a boat captain by the name of George Clancy, and they struck up a friendship.
When she had a date, George often found a way to block the suitor from escorting Helene home.
He would [stop the other man at the Manhattan dock and] say, Sorry. Against the rules. Only island residents from this point forward, Hal explained. So he could always be the one to take her home.
It worked. George and Helene wed and took an apartment in the West Village before moving to Bergen County, NJ. Hals babysitters were his grandparents, which meant frequent stays on the island.
It was a long time ago, but these memories vividly stand out. There were other kids who lived on the island as well, he recalled of the children of a handful of Parks Service employees. We would play in the nonpublic portion behind the Statue of Liberty. We would ride our bikes around the island.
When Hal was 10 years old, his grandfather retired and moved with his wife back to Maine, but Hal kept close to his roots by riding the ferry with his father. As a teenager he worked the snack bar on one of the boats, selling sodas and hot dogs.
He took a brief break from maritime life to attend Stevens Institute in Hoboken, NJ, earning an engineering degree before working in construction. But the North Arlington, NJ, resident couldnt resist his familys past.
I always wanted to get my captains license, and decided to go back and do it ... in honor of my father, said Hal.
The same company that had employed his father hired him as their port captain in 1992 making him the third generation working in service to the statue.
Clancy with his mother Helene in 2017.
Tamara Beckwith/NY Post
The key is, I have loads of institutionalized knowledge, and I have a great relationship with the people at the National Parks Service, said Hal.
Hes even the voice of the safety-instruction announcement that plays on all eight ferries in the line of Statue Cruises, the only company licensed to transport visitors to the island.
In the fleet remains Miss Liberty, a boat his father once piloted. Hal himself doesnt pilot the boats on a regular basis anymore, as he is now the director of facilities at Statue Cruises, which transports almost 4.5 million tourists a year to see Lady Liberty.
But no one lives on the island anymore. Residents were evacuated for Hurricane Sandy, which flooded and badly damaged the homes. Those buildings were eventually torn down, making room for the museum. Its immersive theater stands on what was the footprint of Hals grandfathers house.
I have derived some satisfaction looking at the plans for the museum and knowing his house is, in a way, inside it, said Hal, who is single.
N.H. passed in 1983, 15 years after his wife. Hals father, George, died in 1982, and he lost Helene in 2017.
I took her out to visit the Statue of Liberty one last time only a few weeks before her death, Hal recalled. She suffered from severe dementia, yet, as I took her around the side of Liberty Island facing Manhattan in a wheelchair, she spontaneously said she remembered going to school from there. It brought tears to my eyes.
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