Lady Liberty Welcomes Visitors Again ; despite New Concerns about National Security, the Statue Is to Reopen to the Public Tuesday

Article excerpt

As Willi casts his fishing line out into New York harbor, he stops and admires Lady Liberty standing in the distance framed by clouds pink from a setting sun, her torch glowing like a star.

"The Lady is alive," says the longtime New Yorker, who spends most of his evenings fishing here in Battery Park. "It means she's come back to life."

Tuesday, for the first time since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Statue of Liberty will re-open to the public.

A symbol of hope to millions of Americans and others around the world for generations, the reopening of the statue itself after almost three years comes amid renewed security fears and controversy over the nonprofit charity that solicits money for its upkeep.

But neither terrorist threats nor alleged financial mismanagement has lessened enthusiasm for America's Lady.

Conceived after the Civil War she was originally a symbolic tribute to America casting off the chains of slavery. But it took 20 years to sculpt her and build her base, and by then she came to stand for hope and freedom to the huge immigration waves that washed across the Atlantic from Europe. And now, in the shadow of 9/11, she's taken yet another significance.

"This reopening symbolizes American defiance in the face of terror," says Kathleen Hulser, public historian at the New-York Historical Society. "It's also a defiance against the challenges to public spaces presented by terrorism."

But heightened security concerns have also changed Lady Liberty, and people's access to her.

Tourists now have to go through metal detectors and security screening before they board the Circle Line boats that bring them to her island. And once there, access to the statue itself is limited. Reservations are needed for a guided tour through the base, followed by more security checks. Once inside, people will be greeted by the original torch that lit up the harbor in the late 19th century. (It was replaced when the statue was restored for her centennial.) There are exhibits and history lessons, and a look-out on top of the pedestal that towers 16 stories above New York Harbor.

But instead of being able to climb up the long, narrow winding stairs to peer out through Liberty's eyes across the harbor and Manhattan to the vast country beyond, visitors will now only be able to glance up through a thick glass ceiling at the intricate lattice structure that keeps her standing. …