NEW YORK – For the first time since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Americans on Saturday were allowed to clamber up the steep steps to enter the Statue of Liberty’s crown, a Fourth of July event that promoters said was a sign of the United States’ efforts to overcome fears of the past and celebrate a new American era.
The first ferry bringing people to Liberty Island purred up the New York Harbor at 7 a.m. as the early-morning sun shone on the statue’s golden torch, more than 300 feet above the sparkling water.
In a white tent erected for a special swearing-in ceremony for new citizens, seven servicemen from countries ranging from Bangladesh to Guyana took the oath, the view of Manhattan in the background.
“It’s a proud day today because of the opening of the doors of an American icon,” said U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, adding that the new citizens’ diversity illustrated the potpourri of humanity that makes the U.S. unique.
Salazar announced the crown’s reopening in May, saying it was a “special gift” to Americans.
The move was seen as part of President Barack Obama’s attempts to distance the administration from the policies of his predecessor that critics said had hardened America’s image since Sept. 11. The Bush administration contended that the attacks and the deaths of hundreds of people in the collapsing World Trade Center towers underscored the potential dangers to crown visitors in the event of another attack or other emergency.
Visitors had snapped up tickets online as soon as they became available on June 13. Wearing green Styrofoam crowns on their heads, the men, women and children stood in two rows on the steps at the statue’s pedestal while local, state and national officials jointly held on to a pair of oversized scissors and cut a red ribbon.
“This signals in so many ways a new beginning,” Salazar said.