At Statue of Liberty National Monument, the observation deck in the crown of the 305-high, southeastward-facing statue has been closed to the public since September 11, 2001, because the National Park Service could not be sure that visitors could be evacuated safely in an emergency.
The only access to the crown is via a very narrow, double-helix spiral staircase with a low guardrail. The staircase, which was designed for maintenance, not for daily heavy use by the public, falls considerably short of meeting applicable local, state, and federal building and fire safety codes. (For one thing, no safety-minded official is going to be happy with the fact that a person climbing the steps can’t readily turn back before reaching the crown because of the hundreds of others on the stairs in front and behind. Imagine what would happen if somebody hollered “bomb!” or “fire!” or “she’s got a gun!”)
It’s a challenging climb, too, even for people in great physical condition. And if you are afraid of heights, don’t even think about it. [Ed’s note: Being terrified of heights myself, I doff my hat to anybody willing to make the climb to the crown. If you held a gun to my head and ordered me to climb that staircase, I would tell you to go ahead and shoot me.]
This has been the Park Service’s official stance of the matter “…. Since the Statue is anything but a conventional structure, making it easier for people to exit the crown, in the event of any emergency, is not possible. The National Park Service has therefore decided to close the crown…..”
This stipulation was recently cited in connection with a recent Traveler critique of a “10 Best National Parks” list recently published in a National Geographic book.
Visitors to Statue of Liberty National Monument (accessible by ferry) are currently permitted to go no higher than the statue’s pedestal, which is where Liberty’s toes are. But the crown’s interior observation deck is where lots and lots of people want to go.
By all accounts, climbing the stairs to the crown is an unforgettable experience. Once on the crown’s observation deck (which can hold about 30 people at a time), visitors are afforded magnificent views of New York harbor and environs. Many thousands of visitors have enjoyed that view (and the photo ops) over the decades. Untold numbers of people are sorely disappointed that they cannot do it too -- at least, not yet. Some critics of the crown closing have bluntly accused the Park Service of denying the will of the people.
Not long after the 9/11 closing of the crown, New York City officials began loudly complaining that denying public access to Liberty’s crown hurts tourism and is unfair to visitors. Many critics throughout America contended that closing the Statue’s interior permanently was an overreaction to 9/11-inspired security fears, and that it should be possible to tighten safety and security measures enough to reopen the crown.
Why shouldn’t it be possible, they said, for visitors to continue enjoying what is an iconic experience for Americans and international visitors alike? This is America, for crying out loud. We put a man on the moon, so shouldn’t we be able to put visitors on the observation deck of the Statue of Liberty? It is, after all, roughly 225,000 miles closer.
A Senate bill (S. 3597) that was introduced in June 2006 could have reopened the crown and interior of the Statue of Liberty to visitors if it had been approved. A similar bill was introduced in the House of Representatives in July 2007. Again, not enough traction.
So, how do you put the arm on the Park Service to get the crown reopened? Grab your wallet and follow the bouncing ball. U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner (D-New York) represents the 9th District, which consists of parts of two New York City boroughs (Brooklyn and Queens, to put a finer point on it). The Brooklyn-born Weiner, who served on the City Council 1992-1999, was elected to Congress in 1998 (taking office in 1999) and is now in his fifth term. In 2005 he sought, but did not win, the Democratic nomination for mayor of New York.
Even more to the point of this tale is the fact that Rep. Weiner is a member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security – in which connection, and with the weight of his New York resume, he helped arrange a congressional hearing in September 2007 on reopening the crown.
The preceding June he had already helped persuade the House of Representatives to pass a nonbinding (and largely symbolic) resolution directing $1 million toward the reopening of the crown. But Rep. Weiner would not be satisfied with merely symbolic gestures. He and his supporters wanted real action.
The Park Service, for its part, had made the agency position on the matter very clear. In fact, in a letter dated August 4, 2006, then-Director of the National Park Service, Fran Mainella, had told Rep. Weiner very pointedly that the crown and interior of the statue would remain closed indefinitely and that "the current access patterns [which banned access to the crown] reflect a responsible management strategy in the best interests of all our visitors."
Let’s skip the extraneous details and get to the meat of the matter. The Congressman has finally gotten what he and other proponents of renewed access have long wanted – a genuine all-out attempt to get the crown reopened.
Documents that Rep. Weiner released on July 4th (what better day could have been chosen?) revealed that Congress has allocated $1 million to help fund the effort to make the Statue’s crown available to visitors again. The message to the Park Service is loud and clear: The agency had damn well better get visitors back into that crown again if it can possibly be done.
Stay tuned, folks. The Park Service put out a request for bids on the study last month. The deadline for proposals is Wednesday, and the intent is to finalize plans by January 2009.
It sure will be interesting to see what comes of all this. Meanwhile, Traveler suspects that the Park Service will give short shrift to evacuation proposals that involve having visitors exit the crown’s 25 windows (none of which is over 18 inches high) by parachuting, rappelling, or jumping into safety nets.