Today we visited the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island and then Ellis Island, on very interesting, informative and rather moving visits.
It was very bright again today and extremely cold, although without yesterday’s icy wind. We were well wrapped up as we set out from the hotel just before 9. Got the subway down to South Ferry, the end of Line 1 at Battery Park, the southernmost end of Manhattan Island. The subway has improved so much over the last 20 years. It used to be awful. Dirty and dangerous. Today, it was almost as good as the London Underground. About the same price.
I’d booked our ferry tickets online but we had to pick them up at the Will Call window. Having done so, we went to a nearby deli to have breakfast. What a place! So much stuff. The breakfast wasn’t the apex to be honest but it definitely filled a gap and the hot coffee was just what we needed.
Then we went back to the park, through the, understandably, stringent security checks and boarded the ferry to take us out to Liberty Island, the small islet on which the Statue of Liberty is positioned. I’ve been several times before but this was Bob’s first time.
When I first went back in the early 70s you could climb to the torch and I did. At least I think I did. When I checked this today, there seemed to be disputed facts online about climbing to the torch. I think we did but it’s possible I am remembering climbing to the crown…. but I don’t think so. Anyway, today we were just visiting from the outside. We had the audio tour and it was excellent. Lots of very interesting information about the statue, not immediately apparent just by looking. For instance that the metal is only the thickness of two pennies and that it was assembled onsite and actually “hangs” on a steel frame on the pedestal. Representing the Roman Goddess Libertas, she faces the old world in a challenge as if to say “this is where freedom lies”. A reproof to the French King Napoleon III who had overturned the Republic there, not allowing the French revolution to reach its conclusion. Originally, the symbolism of the statue and its meaning was all about republicanism and the ideas of the Enlightenment. It was only in the early 20th Century that the statue became associated more and more strongly with immigration and the famous poem by Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus, (Give me your huddled masses…) really become entwined in the public consciousness. The poem was written to raise funds for the building of the plinth, when they threatened to run out and embarrass the host country to the gift giving French donors. Nowadays it is totally associated with the immigrant experience and there is much about how the statue’s appearance through the mists encouraged the poor steerage passengers after their hellish voyage, that the end of the rainbow was in sight.
Which brings us to the second call of our visit, Ellis Island. Ellis Island was the clearing centre for immigrants reaching New York between the late 1890s and 1934. It is estimated that around 12 million people passed through it en route to a new life in America. The tours around the centre are very well done and bring home the details of the great waves of immigration that made American society the mix it is today. There is a lesson and an irony there for all of us to appreciate, especially as you hear the voices from history echoing the fears of many of us today “They’ll take all our jobs…. they’ll overstretch our society” etc.
The greatest waves came in the times of the great steamships. Before that, it could take 7 or 8 weeks to reach New York from Europe and conditions aboard the ships was so bad that people often died along the way, especially the children. Steamships shortened the journey to around 8-10 days. Even so, being crammed together in steerage was hellish for the poor immigrants. The rich, cabin class passengers were apparently screened onboard and cleared immediately into America. Steerage passengers all had to be taken from the main ships to Ellis Island where they were processed through a number of checks including medical, mental, legal and paper checking. Most had to be deloused. Many had scabies and other skin diseases. Doctors were especially checking for tuberculosis, trachoma, venereal disease, mental incapacity. Anything that could be deemed a burden on the state. 90% cleared in a day, but some were hospitalised for months and a small percentage were returned to Europe as unsuitable. The exhibits on this process were most interesting and moving, particularly as they dealt with families divided by, perhaps, a medical condition in one member who could not be cleared.
We really enjoyed our visit and left at about 3pm reflecting on what we had seen and how it was being repeated today albeit with different groups of people and without a great empty continent to populate.
Returning to Manhattan, we walked the three or four blocks to Ground Zero, the site of the memorial to the victims of 9/11, the place were the two towers of the World Trade Centre fell. I had been with the girls in about 2005, but Bob was not with us then so it was his first visit. So much has changed in those 12 years. In 2005, the monuments were as now, beautiful water pools at the location of each tower, surrounded by the names of those who had died there. Each of the two pools are within the footprint of the original building and are about an acre in size. Water constantly streams down around the perimeter, dropping into the pool, and then again in the middle of each pool, it cascades down into a deeper, unseen depth. The effect is of a constant stream of tears, pouring down into the foundations of what was once there and the burial site of so many unfound individuals. All around the memorial was wasteland, still building sites of rubble.
Today, the WTC has largely been reconstructed with huge skyscrapers once again surrounding the memorial site. Most have highly reflective glass which creates a beautiful effect. WTC Memorial There is also an interesting new building called the Oculus which looks like an enormous white bird, or a whale carcase, depending on your viewpoint. It has a shopping centre and art complexes within it. The overall impression is that the whole area has been rebuilt to thrive and celebrate life…..
We walked back up through the financial district as far as Canal Street when our feet started to complain and we headed back down to the subway. We must have been looking old…. a young couple gave up their seats on the train to us!!!! Oh, god… that cream’s definitely not working. LOL
Back to the hotel for a rest and then out again for dinner at about 715. We’d eyed a restaurant called Carmine’s which was a couple of blocks away. Amazing reviews on TripAdvisor and sounded our cup of tea. Had tried to make a reservation both online and in person but no luck. It was heaving when we looked in at about 4. Anyway, decided to try again at 715. It was still heaving, the whole big room full up, with people queuing out the door. There was a young black guy on headset outside and he was telling people ahead of us that there was a 2 hour wait for a table. I kind of barrelled past him towards the desk and enquired there to be told the same thing. Just then, he came up behind us and said he could give us a high table if we liked i.e. a table with stools. I hesitated and he said “you don’t want to wait 2 hours do you?” and I said, no, and followed him. He lead us to a table with Reserved on it, took the sign off and sat us down. I have no idea why we got so lucky or why he did this. There were people near us at the bar who waited hours for a table, even a high table like we had.
So, what a buzzy place. I wish I had 1% of their days business. The waitress reminded us that their portions were huge and meals were served “family style” that is big communal plates which you share. We knew this anyway. We decided on tonight’s special which was Prime Rib Chop served on a massive platter with roast potatoes, onions, mushrooms, kale and gravy. Honestly, it was just enormous. An entire rib roast served and sliced to order. We washed this down with two cocktails to start: a Gimlet for Bob and I had a Negroni. Fabulous. Then two glasses of chianti. The beef was tender and melting. A fantastic meal. Couldn’t manage anything else. Thank heavens we didn’t have appetisers. It would be a great place to come with a group of friends. We’d certainly come again if we were in New York.
Can’t tell you what a good day its been! Just love New York. Such a great energy here and like London, it has definitely improved over the last 30 years. Cleaner, more upmarket, feels safer….. Wish we had longer here.
Its definitely a bit warmer tonight. The icy temperatures are receding. Looking forward to a last New York morning tomorrow.