Thursday, July 17, 2008

Lost in History vol. 68: Statue Arms and Statue Crowns, Leave the Tourists on the Ground

This past holiday weekend was everything a holiday weekend should be: relaxing, rooftop bar-b-queing, all-day boozing, late-night schmoozing and non-stop raining (well, almost everything). We went to Coney Island and rode the Wonder Wheel, we defended American patriotism against some preposterous Brits on a BBC radio panel, we even drove down to Mystic, CT and learned about their oh-so-American historic seaport. But what would a perfect holiday weekend be without some jackass congressman’s report, released perfectly to compliment the nationalism of the Fourth, taking on common sense and inviting disaster — or at the very least impossible hours of lines — down upon us all? (And when I say “us all” I generally refer to the NYC tour guide community.)

I refer, of course, to the 9th District's Anthony Weiner (who is considering a run for Mayor – imagine the headlines if his campaign picks up steam – “Weiner on a Roll!”). Weiner released a report on Friday asking the National Park Service consider reopening the Statue of Liberty’s crown to tourism again. She’s been closed to the public since 9/11; however, in 2004, the top of the granite pedestal on which she stands was reopened to visitors. Specifically, those who don’t mind the additional hour wait on Liberty Island (that’s on top of a two- to three-hour hour wait to board the ferry) and extra security screenings. Weiner claims that to keep the crown closed to the public is un-American. He’s wrong — if not by a mile, then certainly by the 301 feet Lady Liberty stands above Upper New York Harbor.
Her crown and the postcard-size windows that provides miniscule views out onto the harbor simply isn’t worth ignoring the fact that she’s an enormous safety hazard. The 15-story double-helix spiral staircase that runs up where her spine should be doesn’t comply with any city, state or federal safety codes. Imagine the disaster if a fire broke out inside the SOL (as we in the biz call her). Not only would there be a stampede to get people down that staircase and out through the narrow doors at her feet, but since she’s a hollow lady, encased in 470 sheets of copper, then the whole thing could act like an oven, cooking the poor tourists inside. Not only was she never designed to handle the crushing numbers of visitors she receives on a daily basis, but Frederick August Bartholdi, the sculptor, never envisioned people clambering around his most magnificent creation. What’s more, any kind of minor malady suffered by a visitor — claustrophobia, asthma, vertigo, etc. — would cause a major calamity in removing the afflicted from their spot on the walkway up or down.

There are even more fascinating lost histories involving the Statue of Liberty and how her various (sexy) body parts were closed to visitors — in particular, the closing of the arm and torch one long-ago July. We’ll cover that very interesting anniversary in an upcoming LIH, which will include: a black man named Tom, his island in New Jersey’s harbor, its sudden explosion in 1916 and German anarchists. Stay tuned!

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