Friday, January 22, 2010

When I First Laid Eyes on Miss Liberty

There are those moments when something causes you to get a lump in your throat and when it happens, you understand why, but unless someone else has been there and done exactly that, you can't really explain to them why it happened.

I can remember the first time I saw the monument at the equator in Quito, Ecuador and walked the line dividing the earth in two. I stood with one foot in the northern hemisphere and one foot in the southern.  My eyes actually filled with tears on that one. It happened to me again last Thursday, but I kind of expected it would.

After Mom and I had done the Martha thing, we hopped back on the subway and went further south on Manhattan island to South Ferry, where we got on the Staten Island Ferry.

It's a free ride (amazing!) out to Staten Island and the views of the Statue of Liberty are pretty good. That was our first glimpse of her.  Then on Saturday, we returned, and took the ferry to Liberty Island to get a closer look.

I've always wanted to like the French people.  But they've got a reputation for not exactly liking us Americans.  I've been to France twice and while I was nothing but respectful and polite to them, I have to say I wasn't exactly treated with kindness.  Just occupying a train car with a French woman and her two dogs clearly irritated the woman. And being shooed out of a store while attempting to make a purchase simply because it was 2:00 and time for lunch isn't exactly my idea of friendly.

But still, I wanted to like them.  I just knew there were nice people there and I'd merely had bad luck.  So, many years ago when I had several pen pals and wrote letters using paper and a pen and put a stamp on an envelope, I sought out a pen pal in France.  I wanted to find a nice French person.  I just knew they existed.  I was right and for many years, I wrote to Marie and we enjoyed a very sweet correspondence.

And now, I want to say to the people of France, "Thank you.  From the bottom of my heart, thank you."

Miss Liberty is a beautiful work of art, to be sure.  It's visually pleasing and I'm sure it looks as good now as it did when it was installed and dedicated in 1886. It was a gift from the people of France to recognize the friendship that developed during the American Revolution.

But over the years, it has come to be a symbol of freedom and opportunity.  It's one of our nation's treasures because of all that it embodies, and when I see it, it's those feelings of pride and patriotism that fill my throat and eyes.

Everyone may not feel the way I do about The Statue of Liberty.  While waiting to get off our plane at LaGuardia, we struck up a conversation with a native New Yorker who was returning home.  She asked how long we were going to be in NYC and what all we planned to do while we were there.  When we mentioned going to see The Statue of LIberty, she seemed surprised and said, "Really? That will take a whole day of your time."

I responded, "Well, it's our first time in New York City and we can't not go to see The Statue of Liberty!"  She looked at us like we were a little touched in the head and sarcastically said, "Well! I guess you can't," and walked down the aisle, off the airplane.  That's okay.  It was our trip, not hers.

One of the other thoughts that constantly ran through my head from the moment we arrived in New York until the time we left, was that this city truly is a melting pot.  You'd expect to find visitors from all over the world, but many of them make New York City their home.  Until we got to our hotel, I don't think we heard a single non-accented person speak.  I had a really hard time understanding the English-is-not-my-native-language people.  I felt bad that I had to keep asking people to repeat themselves.

Then we met Pini and Sara while standing in line to board the ferry to Liberty Island.  I noticed them speaking in their native language (Hebrew) and turned to ask where they were from. They were visiting from Israel for a couple of days in New York before traveling on to the Virgin Islands, where they have relatives.

They both spoke perfect American English with only a slight accent.  We became fast friends while in that line and during the ferry ride.  Sara is just a few months older than our daughter Kara, who will be 30 in May.  Sara and Pini are engaged to be married and they were absolutely delightful. Before we said our goodbyes, we'd exchanged names and e-mails and promised to stay in touch via Facebook.

After we climbed the 156 stairs to the observation deck on the pedestal holding The Statue of Liberty (the elevator was broken), I called Romie and said, "Guess where I am?"  When I told him, and pictured him sitting in our family room, it was one of those surreal moments.  Here I was, standing at the base of The Statue of Liberty - a place until just a few weeks ago that I didn't know if I'd ever be in my lifetime.


We jumped back on the ferry and headed over to Ellis Island.  We enjoyed the exhibits there, which highlighted the immigration statistics in creative ways and contained actual artifacts from immigrants.

There was a large display of all the types of baggage people used to transport their belongings and we saw several trunks that looked nearly identical to the one my mom and dad have in their basement.  It is the trunk used by my dad's family when they came here from Germany/Kingdom of Prussia in the late 1800s.

We tried to look up our family to see if they were listed in the immigration records for those that had come through Ellis Island, then realized they wouldn't be there because they arrived here in the United States before Ellis Island opened in 1892.

Top 3 states for German ancestry population: Ohio, Pennsylvania, and California

An interactive map showed where the concentration of different ancestries now reside in the U.S.  When I chose Germany, the map indicated the highest concentration of people with German ancestry now live in Ohio! I already knew that our particular community was highly Germanic in origin, but apparently the whole state is full of us!

What a great visit to Liberty and Ellis Islands.  As an American, I can't imagine not visiting both at least once if the opportunity arises.  I tried to explain to Mom what I was feeling while walking through the halls of the immigration building.  It was that of inclusion - being a part of something so huge and diverse, yet personal and shared by nearly everyone I've ever known, by virtue of our place of birth.

Friends visiting from The Netherlands a few years ago had remarked to us that they were struck by the patriotism they witnessed while visiting here - in particular, the displaying of our country's flag everywhere.  I guess I had taken it for granted, but they were right - our flag is everywhere.  Until I visited Ellis Island, I don't think I ever fully understood why.

Now I do.


Rose said...

Kylee, I'm so glad you were able to visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island--both of those would definitely be on my itinerary for NYC as well. I understand your feelings while visiting these places, especially Ellis Island. But I didn't realize it didn't open until 1892. My ancestors also came from Germany, but in the 1870's; I just assumed they had come through Ellis Island. Looks like you made the most of your time in the Big Apple!

Chris Kreussling (Flatbush Gardener) said...

I'm equally surprised when I travel outside the city, and see how "white" other places are. Everyone is a demographic minority in NYC. The census district adjacent to my home was identified the most diverse in the U.S.

Mayor Dinkins adopted the term "gorgeous mosaic" to describe our city. I prefer it to "melting pot," which values assimilation. In a mosaic, each piece retains its individual identity, while all the pieces combine to create a larger picture, a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Kylee Baumle said...

Rose ~ I wasn't all that excited about going to Ellis Island, but I'm sure glad we did. It's really a beautiful place in terms of our heritage.

Xris ~ Yes, NYC is almost a universe in and of itself. I enjoyed seeing and watching the people as we traveled from spot to spot. I love people watching anyway and talking to those around me. It's always fun to chit-chat with others who come from a different experience than your own. That's why I always had so many pen pals when I was a kid. I was always fascinated by people of other cultures and countries.
"Gorgeous mosaic" is a better description, absolutely. I think "melting pot" has been used for so many years that we don't really stop to think anymore what that actually means. The diversity is just one of the things that makes New York City such a great place to visit.

Pam/Digging said...

I agree, Lady Liberty is a must-see on a first-time visit to New York. I visited it for the second time two summers ago on the 4th of July, during travels with my DH and kids. It was very moving to be there, and to see Ellis Island, on our nation's birthday.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

A beautiful post Kylee.

Janet, The Queen of Seaford said...

What a wonderful account of a special trip. I too would love to see the Statue of Liberty up close. Looks like the day you went was a gorgeous sunny day.

Gail said...

I have always wanted to see Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.

I have now seen it through your eyes and your heart, Thank you.

Lona said...

Oh Kylee what a treat. If I ever went to New York that would be the only things I would probably insist on seeing. It must be a humbling feeling to see both. I know the statue has to be bigger than my mind thinks it is.Beautiful pictures. Thanks for sharing your trip and giving us the tour.

Peg Wiggins said...

Kylee, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the Statue of Liberty through your lens. Great photographs and insight.
I hope to get there some day.

I've got one question, if I may, you Tweeted that you were 'resizing' photographs for posting. And I'm very curious what you were referring to-cropping or actually changing the pixel size?
I especially liked the last photo in the post. It was may favorite; but the up-close shots were wonderful also.

Unknown said...

Very interesting post, Kylee. Never having been to New York, it was interesting to see it freshly through your eyes instead of thru the news reports or various dramas set there. I'm always awestruck by the statue of Liberty and I'm not even an American. She's just so tranquilly beautiful and hopeful, though on that terrible day in 2001, I kept seeing her against the horror behind her and cried even harder for your country. It's taken a long while to feel serene again when I see her image.

It *IS true about you guys flying your flag everywhere. I was struck by that when I went to the US for the first time about 18 years ago, to Machias, Maine, and then last year going to Missouri. The flat was everywhere! We Canadians love our country and our flag, but I guess perhaps we're just less outwardly demonstrative about it. Maybe it comes from having negotiated our independence rather than having fought for it. I really dunno. It's just one of the intriguing little snippets of observations that we sometimes come up against and say to ourselves, "hmmmm. That's cool. I wonder why?" and then leave it at that.

garden girl said...

Sounds like an awesome experience Kylee. I've just been catching up with your trip, and it sounds like the entire NY visit was very cool. I've never been to NYC, and it was really fun seeing it through your eyes.

(We have Prussian ancestors on my mom's side - they left from Hamburg, and landed at Castle Garden in NY in the mid-1800's. )

Melanie J Watts said...

Sounds and looks like you had a great! trip to New York City. I went there when I was 17, to visit my cousins. they talked me out of visiting the statue of liberty, I suppose they had visited it many times before. The lineups where long and you couldn't go up into the arm, carrying the torch, because it was unsafe. They used both those reasons to say it was a waste of time. Instead we climbed to the top of the Empire State building. They wanted to go to the top of the twin towers too. I talked them out of that one. If I had known what the future would bring I would have gone up there..

Kerri said...

Liberty and Ellis Island are certainly an intrinsic part of New York City that I hope some day we'll get the chance to see. That's been our plan since our oldest daughter moved to the city, but we haven't made it there yet. We did see the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens though and they're well worth the trip. Also saw several of the other places you mentioned. It's a fascinating city for sure.
We were hoping to meet Chris as well but the weekend we were there he was away, so it didn't work out.
Thanks for sharing your profound feelings of patriotism that these historic places stirred. It's one of our country's great strengths...our love of country...and ties us all together. Even as a transplanted Aussie I feel it and share it.
I've loved seeing NYC though your eyes, Kylie. Thanks! Your mom is quite an adventurer :)

Tatyana@MySecretGarden said...

What a great post, Kylee! It brought my own memories of visiting
the Statue of Liberty. Very nice! Thank you!

faehre said...

We are planning our trip for next this article is a great help.

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