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Visiting New York City: views of the Statue of Liberty, on Liberty Island

Updated on February 7, 2014
State Flag of New York
State Flag of New York | Source
State Flag of New Jersey
State Flag of New Jersey | Source
Statue of Liberty from the Empire State Building
Statue of Liberty from the Empire State Building | Source
'Statue of Liberty unveiled', 1886, by Edward Moran
'Statue of Liberty unveiled', 1886, by Edward Moran | Source
President Grover Cleveland
President Grover Cleveland | Source

Impressive from the air, but even its location is apparently ambiguous

Flying over New York City, I had a superb view of the Statue of Liberty, on Liberty Island, in New York Harbor. Since 1886, when it was dedicated, this imposing monument has been among the most famous and recognizable sights in the United States, and as a symbol of New York it vies with the Empire State Building (or, for a few years prior to 1931, with the Woolworth Building) for prominence.

1886 dedication and New York City's first ticker tape parade

French sculptor Frédéric Bartholdi (1834-1904) was responsible for the design and the statue was a gift from France to the United States. Its dedicating ceremony on October 28, 1886 was presided over by President Grover Cleveland, himself a former Governor of New York (and who, ironically, in 1884, had vetoed a bill to provide $50,000 towards the statue project). The first ticker tape parade, for which New York City became famous, occurred on the morning of the dedication, when a celebratory parade passed the New York Stock Exchange, from the windows of which traders threw ticker tape, and the history of this quintessentially American and New Yorker honour had begun. The Statue itself is built on the star-shaped Fort Wood, originally a defensive structure begun in 1806. The island, previously called Bedloe's Island, was ceded by New York to the Federal Government in 1800.

Emma Lazarus's famous poem

Those who have the opportunity to land on Liberty Island and go to the monument's entrance may read these words, which have been on a plaque since 1903:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Although written by the poet Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) in 1883, the words, were not really popularized until some decades later. Emma Lazarus was a from a Portuguese Sephardic Jewish family, and a cousin of US Supreme Court Associate Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo (1870-1938), and thus issues of immigration were very much live ones in her family; she also interested herself in issues relating to a Jewish homeland. Significantly, Ellis Island, on which the terminal stands which received such huge numbers of immigrants to the United States, is only a short distance from Liberty Island. In fact, as a National Monument, its full name since 1966 has been: 'Statue of Liberty National Monument, Ellis Island and Liberty Island'.

My journey thus took me through New York and my route thus rewarded me with a fine aerial view of this quintessential and unambiguous symbol of New York.

Or so I thought.

The reality is more nuanced.

Where exactly is the Statue of Liberty?

A rather bizarre and almost unbelievable situation has arisen in that the Statue of Liberty is regarded as being both in New York and New Jersey. How has this situation come about? There are almost as many answers to this question as there are questioners, but I shall try to give a few facts.

So, which Congressmen do Liberty Islanders write to: to Representatives and Senators from New Jersey or New York? Well, to neither, because no-one lives there; there aren't any Liberty Islanders as such, even though the area is close to some of the most densely populated territory in the world. (1)

Even in Colonial times, the precise boundary between New York and New Jersey was subject to dispute, but this need not detain us. It is, however, a well acknowledged fact that the boundary between New York and New Jersey is well to the east of Liberty Island. This island, with its famous structure, is definitely nearer to the Jersey Shore than it is to New York's Manhattan.

So it's in New Jersey after all? Well, not necessarily, because, technically, Liberty Island on which the Statue of Liberty is built, is regarded as an exclave of New York surrounded by waters completely in New Jersey. Electricity, and other utilities, to Liberty Island, however, are supplied from New Jersey. The U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, as a possible answer to one of the naturalization exam questions: 'Where is the Statue of Liberty?', allows 'New Jersey' as a correct, possible answer, among others. The State of New Jersey has in the past issued vehicle license plates depicting the Statue of Liberty. (So has the State of New York... .)

So where the Statue of Liberty is, is one aspect of the question. But undoubtedly also, it is a symbol, also, of both New York and New Jersey.

So, to sum up, is Liberty Island jointly administered by both the States of New York and New Jersey? Well, no; it's administered by neither, but by a Federal body, the National Parks Service.

Thus it is that, uniquely in my travel articles, in which I make a practice of including the local state, provincial or national flag, I am including both the flags of New York and New Jersey. This may not be wholly satisfactory from some people's perspectives. But my point in doing so is that I myself know that I am not going to resolve a question which has evidently been debated over and over, for a very long time.


(1) If by some stretch of the imagination, a Statue of Liberty janitor with frequent night duties managed to obtain an official Liberty Island address, then this would only make things more complicated, rather than less.

Neighbourhoods of New York City map
Neighbourhoods of New York City map | Source
Map location of Jersey City, within Hudson County, New Jersey
Map location of Jersey City, within Hudson County, New Jersey | Source

Also worth seeing

The cultural and architectural treasures of New York City are far too numerous to list here properly, but a few of these include:

The 102 story Empire State Building , built in Art Deco style and opened in 1931, with observation decks on the 86th and 102nd floors;

The Woolworth Building , built in 1913, which was heralded (somewhat sacreligiously?) as a 'Cathedral of Commerce' at its opening ceremony by a prominent clergyman, the Reverend S. Parkes Cadman ;

Central Park , landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux , with its Belvedere Castle housing the Henry Luce Nature Observatory ;

The Metropolitan Museum of Art . among the world's largest art galleries, and often referred to as 'the Met'.

The Brooklyn Museum , includes among its specialist sections, resources about the Brooklyn Bridge , opened 1883, which in its day was one of the great engineering wonders of the world.

The Flatiron Building , dating from 1902, and its distinct, triangular ground-plan will be recognized by Canadian visitors as similar to Toronto's own, though smaller, Gooderham, or Flatiron, Building.

On the New Jersey side of Liberty Island, Jersey City has many visitor attractions; these include:

The Liberty Science Center , which has exhibitions on many themes, such as 'Our Hudson Home' about the wildlife and ecology of the Hudson River , 'Scyscraper! Achievement and Impact', and 'Energy Quest' about energy types and technologies;

The Katyn Memorial in Exchange Place was inaugurated in 1991 to commemorate the thousands of Polish prisoners massacred in 1940 after the invasion of Poland ordered by Soviet Dictator Stalin;

The Goldman Sachs Tower , completed in 2004, is the tallest building in New Jersey; Goldman Sachs maintains the Colgate Clock , situated near to Exchange Place, which is claimed as the largest in the world.


How to get there: Exceptionally wide air connections are available to New York Newark, John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia Airports, where a wide choice of car hire is similarly available, although travellers may prefer to use various options of public transit for onward travel within the New York Metropolitan Area; a MetroCard is useful. Statue Cruises LLC, as an authorised Concessioner of the National Park Service, supplies ferry services to Liberty Island from Battery Park , New York City and from Liberty State Park , New Jersey (services are subject to change without notice). Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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