Wednesday, November 2, 2011

125 Years of Liberty

Friday, as I waited to get on the Liberty Island boat with Melissa, Betsy, Lisa, David, and Dr. Ruth, I was thinking of my maternal grandmother, Pearl Makiesky Leavitt, who passed through Ellis Island at the age of 12. She spent six months in New York City and it became a point of pride that she hated every minute she spent here. She never spoke of her experience in the city, but the fact that three of her grandchildren and five of her great-grandchildren make the city home makes me smile.

Prior to our arrival on the island, 125 new American citizens were sworn in. Having hosted “swearing ins” in the past, we all agreed how nice it was to be a guest at these festivities. Alice, who rode over on the VIP boat with Sigourney Weaver and her guests, saved us seats. Ms. Weaver read Emma Lazarus’ poem “The New Colossus” and we unanimously agreed that it was a stellar interpretation, making us think of the poem in a brand new way.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar quoted from President Grover Cleveland’s speech given on the occasion of Liberty’s arrival in the harbor, and he shared with us that at that celebration, suffragists watched the event from a boat, because unescorted women were not allowed to attend. “We have come a long way,” said Sec. Salazar, “but we recognize we have a long way to go.”

There were various musical offerings throughout the morning, including the French National Anthem, performances by Michael Feinstein, a gorgeous rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” sung by Carpathia Jenkins, and the West Point Glee Club performing “America the Beautiful,” including that line from the little-known but powerful fourth verse: O beautiful for patriot dream/That sees beyond the years/Thine alabaster cities gleam/Undimmed by human tears! The National Park Service has launched Torch Cams while the statue is under renovation. Check them out.

Following the ceremony, we had just enough time to visit the gift shop where Melissa purchased nifty light up torches and I took her picture in the diorama of Frederic Bartholdi’s studio.

We felt fortunate for so many reasons that day. We were unescorted women able to enjoy the freedoms denied our ancestors; our boat ride lasted 30 minutes, not months; and we work in a museum where we are reminded that liberty is a work in progress.

Photo of the Statue of Liberty from the water.

1 comment:

Betsy said...

Thanks for sharing, Abby. It was a very special day. I was also very moved while thinking of my grandfather's parents who were Russian immigrants, like those that Emma Lazarus was trying to help. I think they would have been proud that just a few generations after they came to this country that a member of their family would be an invited guest to the celebration for the Statue of Liberty.