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Statue Of Liberty's Crown Reopens

GUY RAZ, host:

And just across the water from Coney Island, at Liberty Island, the Statue of Liberty did something she hasn't done in almost eight years. She had visitors up to her crown to take in the view. That crown has been off limits since the attacks of September 11th, 2001.

Ben Calhoun was there, and he sent this report.

BEN CALHOUN: The sun was just barely out this morning when the first people on their way to the Statue of Liberty's crown arrived at the docks. They gathered in Battery Park, on the southern tip of Manhattan. Soon, they made their way through a tent and some air-port-style security. Then, they hopped on a ferry and took off for Liberty Island.

Near the front of the ferry, Andrea Balfour was sitting with her daughter Mona.

Ms. ANDREA BALFOUR: And today is Mona's birthday.

CALHOUN: Balfour says, Mona told her that for her birthday, Independence Day, she wanted to do something special.

Ms. BALFOUR: Two weeks ago, my daughter came to me, saying that she would like to go to the Statue of Liberty.

CALHOUN: Then, Balfour saw an ad for an essay contest for tickets to the reopening of the crown.

Ms. BALFOUR: You know, they call us a week after, that she was the winner and we're going to go to Statue of Liberty. I was like, yes. My dream comes true, you know?

CALHOUN: Just a few minutes later, Andrea Balfour and her daughter Mona put their feet down on Liberty Island.

Ms. MONA BALFOUR: I'm really excited. I never seen it this close before.

Ms. A. BALFOUR: We're excited. The Statue of Liberty. Yes. Freedom.

CALHOUN: Today is reopening of the statue's crown. It is the last of several reopenings for the monument, which was closed after the terrorist attacks of September 11th. The base of the statue has reopened since then.

But the National Park Service kept the crown off limits, citing safety concerns.

Mr. DARREN BOCH (Spokesman, National Park Service): Darren Boch, National Park Service. Testing one, two, three.

CALHOUN: Spokesman Darren Boch says the National Park Service had a few worries about reopening the crown. The first is the narrow spiral staircase going up.

Mr. BOCH: There's 354 steps to the crown, but it's the last 146 in the statue herself that becomes difficult for some people.

CALHOUN: Boch says those steps are always a (unintelligible), but get especially bad when it gets hot.

Mr. BOCH: Some days, it can be a hundred degrees on this island, 20 degrees hot or inside the statue. And so, we used to get a lot of heat-related injuries in the statue.

CALHOUN: Really? Like people passing out?

Mr. BOCH: Yes. People passing out.

CALHOUN: In preparation for today's reopening, the rails on the stairway were braced, and the park rangers now reserve the right to shut things down if it gets too hot.

Now, groups going up are also limited to 30 people per hour, which was exactly the number standing out the doors to the statue, as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar cut the red ribbon and let people in.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. TRACY MUSACCHIO: Basically, it's a lot like a lighthouse. The stairs are narrow, they're angled and they're incredibly steep.

CALHOUN: Tracy Musacchio was among the first group of visitors who had a chance to take the new and improved trip up to the crown.

Ms. MUSACCHIO: I think I was about the third person in. I'm pretty sure that's how the ordering was.

CALHOUN: Dripping with sweat and still a little winded, Musacchio said one thing stood out the most.

Ms. MUSACCHIO: Honestly, when we got up there, everyone had the sense of, oh, that's all there is.

CALHOUN: As in, wow, this room is tiny and sweltering.

Ms. MUSACCHIO: I'd say it was more the experience of getting up there than the actual being in the room that was worth it.

CALHOUN: It almost sounds like a New York studio apartment.

Ms. MUSACCHIO: Exactly. Yeah. I'm sure they could charge 2,000 a month for it, depending on where it was.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CALHOUN: Still, other visitors were excited.

Ms. ALEYNA BARTNICK: It's like I saw the whole, like, New York's bay.

CALHOUN: 8-year-old Aleyna Bartnick was there with her dad, Chris. Like a lot of visitors, Bartnick was surprised by how small the observation room is.


(Soundbite of laughter)

CALHOUN: And she said, there were a lot of stairs.

Ms. BARTNICK: It was really long.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CALHOUND: But she smiled as she talked about it.

Ms. BARTNICK: I couldn't wait till we got to the crown and look out because I've never been there before.

CALHOUN: Her father, Chris Bartnick, said he was excited about taking Aleyna to the crown because it was a trip that years ago he made with his father.

Mr. CHRIS BARTNICK: She was only, you know, a baby when 9/11 happened. So, well, she had never been there and it was a great thing to be there and take her up there. And just, certainly something I did when I was a kid, you know? And hopefully, she'll show her kids.

CALHOUN: With the new safety regulations in place, park officials say about 200 people will be able to visit the Statue of Liberty's crown every day.

For NPR News, I'm Ben Calhoun in New York.

(Soundbite of music) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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