First Lady Opens Lady Liberty; Masses Return to Island
NEW YORK (AP) _ Schoolchildren, hailed for their literary and financial efforts on her behalf, led the march back up into the Statue of Liberty on Saturday as the nation reopened the 100-year-old national monument after a three-year restoration project.
First lady Nancy Reagan cut a red, white and blue ribbon as a band played ″America the Beautiful″ and hundreds of doves were released to soar overhead.
Afterwards, 10,000 visitors crowded onto Liberty Island for a look at and from the statue, so many that the National Park Service stopped ferry service to the island an hour early.
Mrs. Reagan, who said the nation’s children had raised $5 million for Lady Liberty, rode with Kristeen Reft, 9, of Kodiak Island, Alaska, and Laurence Honore, 17, of Herdville, France, in an elevator to the crown of the statue given by the people of France.
They were followed - on foot - by the young winners of a series of state essay contests who climbed the 171 steps to the crown. Once there, they admired the renovation, enjoyed the view and complained about the exertion.
″It was hot, hot, hot,″ said Darren Bruna, 13, of Hollenberg, Kan.
″I really huffed and puffed,″ said Aleta Altrichter, 12, of Broomall, Pa.
In their essays, they were more articulate. ″Soon she’ll shine brilliantly in the sun,″ Miss Altrichter wrote. ″If you’re talking of liberty, she’s the one.″
Bruna wrote simply, ″Quietly, Patiently, Lovingly, The statue stands, a symbol of our country, The Lady.″
Another discoverer of the joys and demands of climbing was Paul Weisman, 24, of Derbyshire, England, a cardboard box factory employee who waited in line for 40 hours.
″I had to see it this morning or not at all,″ explained Weisman, who said he had a flight home at 7 Saturday night.
By midafternoon, there was a wait of more than 90 minutes for the climb to the statue’s top. But the island’s first visitors from the public, who began arriving after noon, appeared undaunted by the long wait.
″It’s kind of chaotic in the statue, not because of the people, but because there’s so many people,″ said Chief Ranger William DeHart. The crowds, he explained, created ″lots of little problems″ but no major woes.
Eleven-year-old Cully Rand of Austin, Minn., who was brought to New York for the opening by a veteran’s group, was also among the first children to reach the crown. The boy has cystic fibrosis, which his mother Leanne said has been diagnosed as terminal.
″I wanted to touch it ever since we read about it in the first grade,″ said the boy, who met Mrs. Reagan and gave her a flag.
Liberty Island was ringed with American and French flags, and a team of workers spent the morning sweeping away clumps of ash left from Friday night’s massive fireworks display. Shortly before the ceremony began, eight jets drew a red, white and blue circle of exhaust in the sky.
″We put her back in mint condition,″ said Lee Iacocca, who headed the drive that raised $66 million to renovate the statue in time for its 100th birthday.
In turning the statue back over to Interior Secretary Donald Hodel, Iacocca said, ″Take good care of her, she’s quite a lady.″
″Lee, you bet we’ll take good care of her,″ Hodel responded. ″That is a sacred obligation.″
Iacocca cited Michael Haverly of Indianapolis, who raised about $6,500 for the statue fund - more, he said, than any other kid.
″You had to wash a lot of cars and sell a lot of T-shirts,″ Iacocca said in praising the fund-raising work of the students.
Visitors found a thoroughly restored national monument, from a new wood dock and a curved brick entrance gate to the statue’s gilded new torch and rebuilt interior support system.
But from the outside, the statue gift from the French people, looked much as it did three years ago when restoration work began. Her skin retained the streaked greenish tint of copper exposed to the atmosphere.
Workers washed down the statue’s surface with water, but did not touch the patina which protects the copper from deterioration.
Inside the statue, workers removed each of the 1800 iron bars in the support lattice work, replacing them with new ones of stainless steel.