NEW YORK (Reuters) – She arrived in the United States from France 125 years ago, and has welcomed her fellow immigrants ever since.
And although far fewer people literally sail past her on their first arrival to U.S. shores, much was made of her enduring symbolism at a ceremony on Friday marking the 125th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty’s dedication.
Hundreds of people took ferries across New York Harbor to Liberty Island on a cold but sunny Friday for the celebration in the statue’s shadow.
It began with a naturalization ceremony for 125 immigrants from more than 40 countries, who would leave the island as U.S. citizens.
“If you look in the visitors’ faces when they come over here you know they got the name right,” David Luchsinger, the National Park Service’s superintendent of the statue, said in a speech, referring to the statue’s proper name: ‘Liberty Enlightening the World.’
“It’s such a simple and profound statement,” he said. “It tells us that every human being on this planet deserves the same rights and freedoms.”
Ken Salazar, the Interior Secretary, said the statue was a reminder that “liberty itself is a work in progress.”
He pointed out that unaccompanied women were banned from attending the original dedication ceremony, and were forced to watch from a boat floating a short distance offshore.
“We have come a long way and we celebrate that today,” Salazar said, “but we also acknowledge and recognize that we have a long way to go.”
The “Star Spangled Banner” was performed, but so was “La Marseillaise”, France’s national anthem, recognizing that the copper-clad statue was a gift from the people of France to the people of America and designed by the French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi.
Broadway stars, schoolchildren and musicians from the West Point Military Academy performed patriotic songs.
The actor Sigourney Weaver, dressed in a red jacket with a blue and white scarf, read the “The New Colossus,” the famous sonnet by poet Emma Lazarus that appears on a plaque inside the statue’s pedestal.
Although the interior of the statue will shortly close for about a year for renovations, new webcams some 300 feet above the ground in the statue’s torch were activated on Friday and will give Internet users a virtual sense of what it is like to ascend the statue.
The ceremony culminated in a gun salute and a flotilla of ships sailing by the island spouting arcs of water.
Outside the ceremony, Averill Nelson, a 66-year-old former caregiver for the elderly, spoke about how special it was to have her naturalization ceremony on Liberty Island, saying how she had often marveled at images of the statue back in her native Jamaica. She moved to New York in 1992.
“It makes a great difference because I can vote,” she said of her new citizenship.
Amanda Liberty, a 27-year-old who loves the statue so much she legally changed her name, had flown over from Leeds in the United Kingdom so she could visit on the anniversary, dressing in a stars-and-stripes jacket and a Lady Liberty-style crown for the occasion.
“She stands so tall, so mighty, so proud in the harbor,” she said, “Yet she’s so peaceful.”
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