It’s not often I make an effort to do touristy things with my kids, and it’s certainly less likely in my hometown of New York City. I had, however, balked last visit on an attempt to go to the top of the Empire State Building, I just could not stomach the cost and long lines. This visit, in August — the dog days of summer — I promised we would do one super touristy thing, and we opted for a trip to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
I had not been on this tour since the late ’70s and was thinking the boat ride would be pleasant and the breeze appreciated. Having booked the tickets online, I insisted the kids bring hats and water bottles and pack lightly. Of course, it’s one of the most popular attractions in the Big Apple, so the crowds and diversity represented were impressive.
Booking online saved us some hassle, as the will-call line was brisk. The boat was packed, and I almost felt like an immigrant in steerage. I was glad we had snacks and water, because they were pricey on the boat.
I have to admit, on a sunny day I was quite gobsmacked by the proximity of Lady Liberty, her majesty and the thought of generations of immigrants arriving on our shores. My younger son caught me tearing up a bit as we approached. I was mostly moved by the array of visitors from all over the country and the world.
We hadn’t scheduled the excursion enough in advance to go into the Lady herself. If you want to do that — visit the base or the crown — book well ahead. Honestly, it was so hot but pleasant walking around her base, we were not upset to miss out on the interior tour. I even succumbed to buying one cheesy torch cup full of ‘lemonade’ mostly for the ice.
Back on the boat to Ellis Island, I told the kids about their ancestors who had come to America through Ellis Island. There was considerable damage caused by Superstorm Sandy, but everything seemed in tip-top shape. There is so much to see — multiple separate audio tours are available — that even though a few things were still being repaired it didn’t detract. The tour we took was comprehensive and moving. Even my Pokemon Go-obsessed tween and teen took a break to absorb the material.
The eeriness of the island itself, the great hall and walking around with the headset on really brings the stories to life. We chose the tour that covered immigration in the late 19th to the early to mid 20th century. Images like this menu from the cafe — primarily Eastern European fare — from the first half of the 20th century, were fascinating and the detailed exhibits really helped illustrate the experience for my kids.
We toured the exhibit on more recent arrivals — certainly very pertinent these days with all the refugee crises in the world. To hear Vietnamese boat people tell their story after having heard a Polish girl’s story from 1920, and then thinking about present day Central Americans, Syrians and Eritreans, made the power and common thread of these tales resonate deeply.
We had a quick lunch and did not choose the freedom burger, but we also did not buy a foam crown or a lady liberty cupie doll. Instead we just took with us the many searing stories of so many who have fought hard to come to this country.