For the 12 million immigrants who passed through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954, the sight of the Statue of Liberty presiding over New York Harbor signified their hard-won arrival in the land of the free. Today, 120 years after the French presented this gift to the United States, the statue’s symbolism still endures, though it attracts pilgrims of a different kind—some 4 million tourists each year.
For present-day sightseers, access to Lady Liberty is highly restricted. Climbs to her crown—designed by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, and built by Gustave Eiffel—must be reserved as much as six months in advance; for the museum, housed within the Richard Morris Hunt–designed pedestal, only 20 percent of all visitors are even allowed access, due to post-9/11 security concerns. Everyone else is left to wander the 12-acre island’s uninspired grounds (“free audio tours add to their experience,” the website assures), snap a selfie, and catch a boat back to Manhattan.