The Statue of Liberty reopened to visitors Tuesday after nearly three years of renovations and upgrades following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Just one day after federal officials rattled New Yorkers with a warning about the threat of another attack, officials hailed the refurbished statue as a symbol of the city's and country's recovery.
"This beacon of hope and liberty is once again open to the public, sending a reassuring message to the world that freedom is alive in New York and shining brighter than ever," Gov. George E. Pataki (R) said at a ceremony on Liberty Island.
Access remains limited to the 16-story pedestal where visitors can peer up through a new glass ceiling into the statue's metal skeleton. An observation deck below Lady Liberty's feet is the closest visitors will come to her.
Franco Tiozzo, on a family trip from Italy, had hoped to hike to the statue's crown and take in the panoramic view of New York's harbor. "It's strange to see a statue from the inside," he said. "We have seen the statue by television only."
The statue became accessible to the public after extensive security and safety upgrades. Before boarding a ferry to the island, visitors must clear airport-style metal detectors and bag screeners. Officials have installed surveillance cameras, bomb detectors and portals that detect bomb-making chemicals.
Once on the 12-acre island, visitors are also subjected to bag searches. Bomb-sniffing dogs have been assigned to the island. A Coast Guard boat with mounted guns patrolled the surrounding water.
Park officials reopened Liberty Island in December 2001, but safety and other improvements to the monument were still necessary. To fund the $6.7 million project, the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation began a public campaign and secured a $3 million donation from American Express and $1 million from the Folgers coffee company.
The fundraising drive and oversight by the National Park Service has drawn criticism from elected officials who say it was the government's responsibility to finance the statue's restoration.
Rep. Anthony D. Weiner (D-N.Y.) faulted the Park Service for what he calls a partial reopening and depriving the public, including Republicans who will be in the city for their national convention at the end of the month, of access to the statue. "When convention delegates come here this month they are not going to be able to partake in a quintessential New York experience and that's because of the Bush administration," he said.
Weiner said the government shirked its responsibilities for reopening the statue and instead, "the National Park Service has turned over this project lock, stock and barrel to a private philanthropy."
That philanthropy, the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, has become the subject of investigations by the Senate Finance Committee and the Interior Department's inspector general. They are looking into the fundraising campaign for possible tax law violations.
Neither controversy nor the city's oppressive humidity prevented Sue Henderson, 37, from visiting Liberty Island. Henderson, who lives in Jacksonville, Fla., joined about 100 other Liberty Tax Service franchise owners for opening day.
"It's an important time in history," she said, "and we wanted to be part of it."