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Taking the Kids: The world's best birthday present, the Statue of Liberty

By Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency on

What a birthday present! A 151-foot-tall, 225-ton statue that came disassembled from France in 214 crates.

The Statue of Liberty was a gift from France to commemorate America's centennial. Not without strings, though. Americans were tasked with funding the massive pedestal on which she would stand in New York Harbor. But not until the New York World launched a major fundraising campaign did the needed money come in -- pennies, nickels, dimes. "I send you part of my Fourth of July ($1) money, If I had as much money as some people, I would give you enough to finish it," Mary Lowell, 9, wrote in 1885.

Today, of course, Lady Liberty is a worldwide symbol of freedom -- no more so than on July 4th. She attracts some 4.4 million visitors annually, more than ever, according to Statue Cruises, which ferries visitors to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, home of the Immigration Museum and historic halls where so many millions passed on their way to life in America. (Share your story of how your family came to America!)

With so much discussion about restricting immigration today and the recent opening of The Statue of Liberty Museum with its green roof and sweeping views of Lady Liberty, the Manhattan skyline and New York Harbor, the biggest addition to Liberty Island since the statue itself, there is no better time to visit.

"The Statue of Liberty Museum makes a trip to Liberty Island an entirely new experience," said Stephen Briganti, president of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation. "Now, all guests have the opportunity to learn about the statue's history, why and how she was created, how the people of America helped make it possible, and what the word liberty means to different people."

The new museum is huge -- 26,000 square feet -- and features three interactive gallery spaces meant to tell the story of Lady Liberty in new ways. We are reminded that the Statue of Liberty was recognized as one of the greatest technical achievements of the 19th century, a marriage between art and technology.

 

Visitors start at the Immersive Theater for a multimedia experience, complete with a virtual fly-through ascending the statue. Visitors are asked to consider what liberty means today -- a free press? Access to education?

In the Engagement Gallery, explore what took place in the Paris warehouse where Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi built the statue with the help of many skilled workmen, who painstakingly created full-scale models of the head, arms, hands and feet, layering wet plaster over wood, ultimately calculating some 9,000 individual measurements on each section.

Did you know Bartholdi used his mom as the model for the Statue of Liberty? In the Inspiration Gallery, visitors are invited to express their views by adding a self-portrait to the growing digital wall called Becoming Liberty.

Perhaps the best part: the chance to get up close to the original torch, which was replaced in 1986.

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