for National Geographic News
This Fourth of July visitors will once again be free to visit the Statue of Liberty's crown for the first time since 9/11.
The New York City landmark's upper reaches are set to reopen after being closed for safety reasons after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. The move follows the reopening of Liberty Island in late 2001 and of the statue in 2004.
Officials were concerned that, among other things, the double-helix staircase extending to the Statue of Liberty's neck was too difficult to evacuate, didnt meet fire codes, and frightened visitors.
Among the Statue of Liberty's changes since closing: improved, higher handrails on the main staircase; an enhanced the public address system; and starting this Fourth of July, stricter limits on visitors.
The National Park Service expects between 10,000 and 15,000 people to visit the 12-acre (5-hectare) Liberty Island on July 4. On any given day, though, only 240, in groups of ten, will be allowed to climb the 354 steps to the crown and gaze out its 25 windows.
"When the reservation system opened on June 13, tickets for the fourth, fifth, and sixth [of July] were sold out by 12 noon," just two hours after sales began, said Mindi Rambo, a spokesperson for the National Parks of New York Harbor.
Statue of Liberty History
France gave the 305-foot-tall (93-meter-tall) statue—151 feet (46 meters) if you don't count the statue's giant pedestal—to the U.S. in recognition of the friendship formed between the two countries during the American Revolution, which culminated in U.S. independence from Britain in 1776.
Based on an idea conceived by French historian Édouard de Laboulaye at an 1865 dinner party in Paris, the Statue of Liberty took shape at the hands of a young sculptor, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, who is rumored to have based Lady Liberty's face on his mother's.
French engineer Gustave Eiffel—later renowned for his Parisian tower of "naked" metalwork—created the steel skeleton beneath the Statue of Liberty's delicate exterior, according to the Park Service.
"If you take two pennies, stack them together—that is about as thick as her copper skin," Rambo said.
After being shipped from France in hundreds of pieces and reassembled over four months atop the pedestal on Liberty Island, the "Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World" was formally dedicated on October 28, 1886—ten years after the U.S. centennial for which the statue had been intended.
Statue of Liberty Remodeled
The 21st-century modifications are hardly the only changes to the Statue of Liberty over its history. Shrapnel from a bomb blast on a neighboring island in 1916, for example, prompted the permanent closure of the torch's open-air balcony to visitors.
Beginning in 1982 the Statue of Liberty—with scaffolding eventually obscuring it from toes to torch—began undergoing a major restoration timed to the statue's centennial in 1986.
The biggest 1980s change was the replacement of Liberty's torch.
Originally intended to allow the statue to serve as a lighthouse, the previous flame—now housed in the museum on Liberty Island—was largely made up of amber-colored windows, which were lighted from within. Those windows, though, had openings that allowed in rain, which corroded the raised arm's support structure, Rambo said.
The 1986 flame has an unbroken, 24-carat gold leaf-covered skin that is lighted from the outside.
The 1980s restoration also included a thorough washing of the Statue of Liberty's copper skin, which has a naturally oxidized, green coating called a patina.
"The patina is a protective coating that the copper creates for itself," Rambo said—which isn't to say the metal doesn't need a little TLC now and again. The statue, Rambo added, "has to be washed with a combination of crushed walnut shells, baking soda, and pressurized water."
For now, though, the nut crushers, railing installers, and other renovators are due for a rest. But it won't last for long.
In two years the Statue of Liberty will close again for a retrofitting of the pedestal. The process should take about two years, Rambo said.
It may be worth the wait: When the crown reopens again, around 2013, about 480 people a day—double the current limit—should be able to access the crown.
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