NEW YORK — Romance can be tumultuous, and no one knows that better than the Statue of Liberty. Over and over, Lady Liberty has been separated from her adoring public, most recently by an uninvited guest named Sandy who stormed through, leaving heartbreak and ruin in her wake.
For eights months, the statue stood alone in New York Harbor, but the painful breakup was pushed aside Thursday as visitors returned to the Statue of Liberty for the first time since the Hurricane Sandy shut her down last Oct. 29. It was the third closure since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a little bit tired of reopening and closing the Statue of Liberty,” David Luchsinger, the national monument’s superintendent, said as the sun beat down on Liberty’s golden torch. “I think this time we’ll just leave it alone.”
As he spoke, thousands of visitors swarmed Lady Liberty and her home, Liberty Island, a short ferry ride from Lower Manhattan and uninhabited save for the 127-year-old woman who symbolizes freedom, from her shimmering torch to the broken chain at her feet.
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As the first tourist boat of the day circled the island and visitors got a close-up view of Liberty’s strong jaw and steady-gazing eyes, they fell quiet. Many lowered their cellphones, stopped taking pictures, and stared.
“She’s beautiful,” said Rebecca Hines, of Byron, Ill. “This isn’t something you can capture on an iPad.”
“Pictures don’t do it justice at all,” said son Alex, 16.
Officials said it was literally a round-the-clock effort to get the statue reopened in time for Independence Day, which had been their goal since Sandy sent a record 14-foot storm surge over much of New York.
Lady Liberty survived unscathed, but her home was trashed. The ferry docks were splintered, the electrical and sewage systems were destroyed, and the walkways and railings surrounding her pedestal were a total loss.
The National Park Service expected to spend about $56 million to fix Liberty Island and adjacent Ellis Island, home to an immigration museum that remains closed.
But the cost soared to $77 million as officials sought to use materials that they hope will prevent the next monstrous storm from damaging the islands’ infrastructure.
“It was no small feat,” National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis said of the restoration, which included putting 53,000 new paving stones and 2,000 feet of granite in place.
The scramble paid off. Coveted tickets to visit the statue’s crown, a climb of 354 stairs up a narrow, winding staircase, sold out months ago. “It’s worth it,” said Bev Viger, of Vancouver, B.C., who was visiting with granddaughter Makaela. They had scored crown tickets along with a friend, Danielle Williams, and weren’t deterred by the hot, swampy day.
“It’s spectacular, and it’s the New York icon,” said Williams. “And what better day to visit?”
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell paid tribute to the statue and to the 19 firefighters killed Sunday in Arizona, breaking down in tears as she called the fallen men “a great reminder of the importance of first responders” and urged Americans to remember them on Independence Day.
Jewell wore a purple ribbon on her shirt to honor the firefighters.
Since the statue was dedicated in 1886, it has been closed several times. Security concerns after the 2001 attacks prompted Liberty Island’s closure for three years. The island reopened in 2004, but the statue was kept closed for two more years.
In 2006, visitors were once again allowed inside, but not up to the crown. It finally was reopened on July 4, 2009.
On Oct. 29, 2011, the statue was closed for one year for interior upgrades. It reopened a year later, only to close after one day because of Sandy.
“This is a work of art that became a symbol of resilience,” said Adrian Benepe, of the Trust for Public Land. “It’s a highly important symbol, not just for New York but for the world.”
Gil Thibault, of Laguna Beach, Calif., with his wife, Judy, and daughter, Sandee, agreed. “It’s not one of the seven or eight wonders of the world,” he said, “but it should be.”