I remember my first visit to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. I was in fifth grade and it was one of those rite of passage field trips to New York City. Others included the Bronx Zoo, Museum of Natural History and Broadway shows. It has been years since I took the ferry over from the concrete jungle, but now I, and many other visitors have reason to return. On May 16, The Statue of Liberty Museum welcomed droves of people to Liberty Island’s newest addition, a project that, according to Stephen Briganti, president and CEO of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, is very much needed.
“It has been quite the project,” said Briganti, who oversaw the entire development from start to finish. “For the last five years, we raised all the money—no government sources—hired out contracting and construction and created new attractions for people to see.”
A favorite activity and major draw to Ellis Island is the family history center, which has the records of immigrant arrivals through the port of New York from 1819 to 1957. Now, there is a 26,000-square-foot museum to explore. The space features an immersive theater with three gallery spaces, which detail Lady Liberty’s—sculpted by French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi—conception to her place in today’s society. Visitors can also view never before seen photos of the statue from a drone’s perspective and venture into the
“Becoming Liberty” area, where visitors can take a picture of themselves and choose from a list of words on what liberty means to them. The experience culminates with the pièce de résistance: an up-close view of Liberty’s most iconic symbol, the original torch. Held high for nearly 100 years, it was, according to Briganti, originally stored at the base of the statue after being rescued from the elements. The torch was taken down in 1984 and replaced in 1986. It continues to be the most powerful symbol of light and guidance in the nation, especially during times of trial.
“After September 11, security was heightened and the number of people that were allowed to go into the statue were dramatically cut,” said Briganti, noting that only 20 percent of 4.5 million annual visitors could gain access inside in the 1980s. “We wanted to build a new museum on Liberty Island that everyone could visit. It’s been 35 years since we restored the statue and there have been great advances in technology that have allowed us to create this new space.”
When it came to the design of the building, there was a limited area of space to work with, since Liberty Island is fairly small. The organization raised $100 million—varying from small to large contributions—which allowed Briganti to hire museum exhibitors and contractors to begin the project. At the grand opening, Seth Meyers hosted the evening, welcoming Oprah Winfrey as the keynote speaker. Gloria Estefan and Tony Bennett also performed.
The museum opened to a crowded and excited public as people poured in to see Liberty Island’s newest addition. As they waited online outside, visitors were treated to sweeping, panoramic views of Lady Liberty, lower Manhattan, and all of New York Harbor.
“It was bizarre to watch this project that I have nurtured from its infancy finally come to fruition,” said Briganti. “The response has been great and I am so happy that people are actually enjoying it.”
Plan your trip to Liberty Island and see what America’s symbol is all about by visiting www.libertyellisfoundation.org.