Many of you are lucky enough to live within eyeshot of the Statue of Liberty. That’s an incredible thing when you consider that tourists travel from across the globe to see this monumental tribute to freedom.
Ask the locals if they think there’s a museum on Liberty Island, and the answer will be yes. And there is, but it’s inside the monument and available to only a small fraction of the Statue’s 4.3 million annual visitors.
The reason for the curtailed capacity speaks volumes about the world we live in, and the need for emblems and artifacts that honor the tenets of freedom: After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, new security measures limited access to the interior of the Statue.
The new $70 million, 26,000-square-foot museum is part of a beautification plan that includes landscaping and lighting.
Engineer Gustave Eiffel, responsible for another of the world’s most iconic structures, crafted the hand-forged iron bars that supported the Statue for 100 years. They were removed and preserved during the 1986 centennial restoration. These bars will be sculpted into a “Liberty Stars” mural that will grace the entrance to the museum.
The highlight of the new museum will be Lady Liberty’s original torch, which will be on view in the “Inspiration Gallery.” It was removed and preserved in 1984 because it was beyond repair. “It’s an amazing piece of art, and the story is so interesting,” says Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation President and CEO Stephen Briganti. “The original did not have windows. They were carved into it in the 1900s, and not very well. Water leaked in, and they began to deteriorate.”
The contemporary structure will feature a green roof-scape and bird-safe glass exteriors. The interior and exterior spaces will be built with materials native to Liberty Island, and those used to build the Statue, including Stony Creek granite, bronze, plaster, and a variety of native plants. The museum will be above 500-year flood levels and built to withstand hurricane-force winds.
“I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”—Emma Lazarus
“The point we’re trying to keep in mind,” says Briganti, “is that the museum isn’t the feature; the Statue is the feature. We’re not trying to outdo the Statue. The design of the museum is really, really nice, but it has to be kept relative with respect to the Statue.”
It would be hard to overshadow the Statue, given its size and significance. “It’s become an American symbol of what liberty means to people around the world,” Briganti says. “The concept of liberty keeps changing and expanding. You come to a point where you realize that the way we see liberty may not be the way everybody else does.”
Much to Muse Over
The museum will offer three galleries. The Immersive Theater Gallery is a multi-media event, featuring a virtual experience of ascending the Statue and recreating the views and sounds inside. In the Engagement Gallery, visitors can explore the warehouse where Frederic Auguste Bartholdi built the Statue. The interactive presentation shows the process, from small plaster model to the pounding of copper sheets on massive negative molds to create the Statue’s final form. In the Inspiration Gallery visitors may document their experience by adding their names and photos to a Liberty Mosaic. And of course, the original torch is the crowning glory of the entire museum. A glass wall in this gallery offers views of the Statue and the New York City skyline.
Exhibitions, created by ESI Design, will cover the Statue’s history, design, construction, and restoration. A virtual flythrough offers an overview of Lady Liberty’s history and her global impact. ESI’s president is Edwin Schlossberg, who is married to Caroline Kennedy.
Another luminary involved in the project is legendary fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, chair of the fundraising campaign. “She’s the godmother of the Statue of Liberty,” says Briganti. “She’s helping to raise the money, all from private sources.” A Belgian native, the immigrant experience has special resonance for her.
Access to the museum will be free with purchase of a ferry ticket to Liberty and Ellis Islands. Liberty Island will remain open throughout construction. VisitStatueCruises.com
“This will be a great museum for people interested in the history of the Statue and the concept of liberty,” Briganti says, adding, “Each time I see the Statue I get a thrill.”—Kate Rounds
For more information about the Statue of Liberty Museum, visit libertyellisfoundation.org/statueoflibertymuesuem