The six small homes on Liberty Island share one of the world's most beautiful views.
It's not the view to the left, half a mile away squat the sullen New Jersey docks, industrious, gray-not a postcard view in sight from Hoboken down to Bayonne.
But on the right looms the 305-foot-high Statue of Liberty, green goddess of the harbor. Even in this unaccustomed back view, the colossal robed figure remains graceful in midstride. And straight ahead, floating hypnotically above a mile and a half of whitecaps, glimmers one of the world's lodestone cities-Oz and El Doroado, Xanadu and Zenith, in one megacity of glass and steel and stone.
"Yep," Ellen Bishop said, "there's the Big Apple. And for all that we live in New York City," she adds with a grin that is wry but not regretful, "it might as well be the middle of Caneas.
"Living over here doesn't do much for your social life," she continued, "because whatever you're doing in Manhattan, you've got to leave early enough to catch the last boat over at 10:30 p.m. So you can forget concerts, the theater, even movies, except for matinees, and if you're at a dinner party, you have to eat and run.
"But still, it's awfully nice over here at night, after the tourists have all gone for the day. Then it really does seem like an island-just a big, beautiful park that we have all to ourselves."
Bishop is a National Park Service ranger and one of seven adults and five children who are permanent residents in a cluster of private homes at Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island National Monument.
Winter is the slack season on Liberty Island, and on a cold and snowy day in March there are so few tourists that Marilyn Keeler and Frank De Pippo, the other unmarried rangers, are in Manhattan for the day. David moffitt, monument superintendent, is in a meeting. Mrs. Moffitt, having seen their three children off to schools by way of boats to Governors Island and Manhattan, is sprinting down the dock to catch the boat that will take her to the U.S. Coast Guard PX on Governors Island to do her grocery shopping.
Although it is only 11 a.m., Bishop has one eye on the clock because she must catch the next boat in order to keep a 1:30 p.m. appointment in upper Manhattan.
That will leave only Mike Tennent, chief of visitor services, to direct about two dozen commuting employes who tend the grounds, conduct the small tours and serve steaming coffee to the chilled tourists.
It's a strange existence, the Liberty Island residents admit-isolating, but often comforting to that common personality trait that led them to become rangers in the first place.
As with most jobs, it is easier to speak of the difficulties, the satisfactions are often intangible and deeply personal.
"It's a bit of a nervous strain on you to be always watching the time for the last boat," Tennent said. "Psychologically, the one biggest hassle is getting the groceries . . ."
Tennent, 30, leans back in his chair, his daughter Kelli, 2, squirming on and off his lap. She has a cold which she has recently transmitted to 7-month-old Patrick, who is half asleep in Toni Tennent's arms.
Mrs. Tennent added: "You don't realize how wonderful it is to have the trunk of a car available to you when you go shopping-especially with the kids and all the stuff you have to carry. We have a car that we leave parked at Liberty State Park over in Jersey City. Sometimes I go over for the weekend and visit with my sister in New Jersey, and it just seems like an incredible luxury to pile the kids into the car and drive around to the shopping centers. I even enjoy buying junk, just useless stuff, because it's such a release to get out and shop without having to plan it like a military operation."
Tennent joined the Park Service in 1967 and married nine years ago. His first post was at George Washington Carver National Monument near Joplin, Mo., followed by the Grand Canyon, Manassas Battlefield in Virginia, Independence Hall in Philadelphia and Ford's Theater and the Washington Monument. He came to Liberty Island last August.
"We rangers are transferred around quite a lot," Tennent said. "The usual assignment is for an average of 2 1/2 years, so I expect we'll be here about two more years.
"For my part, Liberty Island is quite an exciting job-not typical of so many Park Service assignments because the location is so unusual. But it's a lot harder on Toni because everything revolves around boat schedules.
"We realized that Kelli should be around other children her age, so Toni has started taking her to a day-care center. But that's over at the Coast Gaard station on Governors Island, so it's bundle up the kids, get them to the boat, stay there with them and then bundle them back.
"Later on, it will be school on Governors Island, and from junior high on, they have to go to Manhattan. That means that the Moffitt kids have an hour and a half commute one way-catching the 7 a.m. boat, then a bus to school, then the bus back to the 4 p.m. boat back here.
"Just stop and think about it. Even something as simple as going to the bank is a three-hour round trip."
For personal business, island residents can schedule the Park Service's boat from 9 a.m. to shortly after noon. "But after that it's almost impossible to schedule a special run because the boat is picking up kids from school and taking maintenance workers back to Manhattan," Tennent said.
The New York City Police Department no longer maintains routine harbor partrols after midnight, but in case of an emergency, the Coast Guard is on 24-hour call and can land a helicopter on the island.
Short of an emergency, the islanders are on their own.
"But it really isn't all that bad, actually," Tennent said. "As far as trips to Manhattan are concerned, we just get used to leaving in time for the 10:30 boat. Dave Moffitt has a brother in Manhattan, Marilyn Keller's mother lives over in Brooklyn and Ellen Bishop has a friend in upper Manhattan, so they have a place to hole up if they miss the last boat. Toni and I-well, we just have to find a hotel.
"As for life right here by ourselves, it's fine. We all get along well, and we don't indulge in a lot of shop talk after hours. You can't, when you live and work in such a small place. Toni and I aren't particularly social, anyway. I think it's probably harder to be single and live over here-unless you're an awfully fast operator when you get to Manhattan."
Does Tennent ever reflect on the paradoxical quality of life on this island-overrun, in the summer at least, by thousands of tourists by day, then hermetically sealed off by night?
He shrugged and smiled. "Oh, sure. But that just goes with the territory in the Park Service. And that's what makes this assignment here so unusual. Because of the nature of this monument, we get bomb threats from political dissidents, and so-called takeovers of the statue, and suicide threats, and sometimes just kids mugging each other for lunch money . . . I mean it's something all the time. Nothing all that serious, I'm glad to say, since I've been here. But it is exciting, and I do live it.
"And then, it's rather nice, at night, when the people leave. It's strange and rather interesting to be so isolated in the midst of 12 million people."
"Last fall," Tennent, said in a tone reminiscent of some long ago, far away idyll, "we went into Manhattan and just played tourist for a whole weekend."